Oral history of British science

Humphreys, Colin (3 of 9) Oral History of British Science

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  • Subjects

    Materials Science

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  • Recording locations

    interviewee's office, Cambridge

  • Interviewees

    Humphreys, Colin, 1941- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 3: Story about first dating his wife Sarah, a chemistry student, at woman bereft Imperial College as the result of a bet with a friend: later continuing relationship at Cambridge; CH not telling wife about bet for 20 year; wife being attractive but shy whilst younger. [03:12] Comments on CH starting at Cambridge in 1963: intended PhD with Peter Hirsch on interaction of dislocations and magnetic domains in metals; story about accident with a lamp post whilst working for Unilever in vacation job, which delayed CH's start at Cambridge; anecdote about starting PhD supervised by Mike Whelan instead of Peter Hirsch; PhD topic on Laing X-ray topography. [07:37] Story about problematic path of CH PhD research: death of Cavendish laboratory technician responsible for building equipment causing delays; Archie Howie suggesting another PhD topic, examining stacking faults in electron diffraction patterns using a computer to calculate Schroedinger equations; completion X-ray topography equipment allowing CH to collect results on original topic; CH thesis combining both topics. [10:35] Description of dislocations: missing half plane of atoms in crystals; implications in controlling strength of crystals; novel nature of dislocations in 1960s, Peter Hirsch's being one of the first to observe them. [13:10] Story about progress of PhD: problems with equipment leading CH to consider switching PhD to molecular biology; CH well placed to apply research to other problems; philosophical nature of doing a PhD. [14:55] Remarks on X-ray topography: developed by Andrew Lang at Bristol University; allows examination of inside of a crystal without magnification; description of how x-ray scans crystal onto film over long exposure; description of image on film; use of optical microscope to magnify film afterwards; anecdote about developing nuclear emulsion photographs in a refrigerator; potential problems with leaving experiments running; wax mounting of specimens; size of equipment; story about getting a serious electric shock from equipment; anecdote about Peter Hirsch's subsequent safety notice. [21:00] Anecdote about health and safety at 1960s Cambridge and dodging X-ray beams. [22:15] Remarks on research group: led by Peter Hirsch, CH in Mike Whelan's group; other group members Archie Howie, Mike Gorringe, Peter Hazzledine, John Jakubovics; interaction between group members, morning and afternoon discussions over coffee. [24:23] Story about CH PhD examination with Maurice Blackman and Mike Whelan: Blackman wearing dark glasses due to health issue; unexpected arrival of Alan Metherill wearing black ping-pong balls over eyes disrupting viva. [26:20] Anecdote about office mate Bill Tunstall CH scheme to help Tunstall break off his engagement. Anecdote about Alan Metherell becoming a university proctor by accident and arriving at his swearing in at Senate House dressed in a Sherlock Holmes outfit. [29:35] Remarks on working interaction between research group and helping people out. [30:25] Remarks on meticulous supervisor Mike Whelan: anecdote about Whelan's childhood aircraft model making in wartime attracting the attention of MI5; anecdote about Wheeler's scheme to save money by buying tram tickets in bulk on a conference trip to Japan; limited contact with Wheeler as supervisor. [33:00] Remarks on Cavendish Laboratory: now occupied by Material Science department containing CH's office; CH secretary occupying office where Watson and Crick worked on DNA; differences between Cavendish in 1960s and today, less team spirit and discussion between students today; anecdote about awkwardness of Helen McGaw's annual research group gatherings; lengthy working days, girlfriends commonly coming into lab to make coffee in evenings; evenings in The Eagle pub. [37:55] Remarks on working Cavendish: daily activities, shortages of electron microscopes leading to people working in the evenings; anecdote about technician in Cavendish working for a cigarette or a dirty joke; relative ease of research funding; interactions between researchers and technicians, example of electron microscope photographers in Peter Hirsch's group; story about CH and Mike Whelan visiting Andrew Lang at Bristol to obtain plans for equipment, problems with drawings, technician Peter and CH redesigning equipment, death of technician hampering construction of equipment, anecdote about CH finding a garage to cut cog wheel for equipment. [42:50] Comments on PhD: Howie bringing in photograph of stacking fault with unusual number of fringes, research topic picked up by CH; CH developing computer program; description of discrepancy in fringes in photograph due to interference effect; developing atomic model of defect in crystal, necessitating writing a computer program. [47:10] Remarks on using EDSAC2 computer: using computer yourself; sound from computer loudspeaker advising user if computer was stuck in a loop; CH learning programming in Fortran and ALGOL from books; unreliability of EDSAC2; importance of computer access to CH research; waiting in queue for computer; program output, and plotting results by hand; comparing computer output data with images. [52:20] Further remarks on PhD: broad topic of PhD "Aspects of X-ray Topography and Electron Microscopy; key findings in imaging of silicon from topography, explanation of stacking fault images, computer programs, electron absorption in materials and inelastic scattering; CH enjoyments in work, puzzle solving; combining two techniques within one thesis; anecdote about PhD viva with Blackman and Wheelan.

  • Description

    Interview with materials scientist, Professor Sir Colin Humphreys

  • Related transcripts

    Colin Humphreys interviewed by Thomas Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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