Oral history of British science

Humphreys, Colin (4 of 9) Oral History of British Science

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  • Subjects

    Materials Science

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    interviewee's office, Cambridge

  • Interviewees

    Humphreys, Colin, 1941- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 4: Remarks on: CH feeling depressed during difficulties of PhD; influence of Archie Howie's suggestion on subsequent work on electron microscopy image interpretation theory. [02:30] Discussion about electron microscope image of a dislocation: reference to photo of a defect; domain boundaries; using computer to solve Schroedinger equation; tacit understanding of images, recent work on an unknown defect; improvements in electronic microscopy; state of electron microscopy in 1960s, controls and complications. [07:20] Description of 1960s electron microscope and how it is used: assistance of technicians, students developing own film. [09:30] Remarks on: Peter Hirsch moving research group, including CH and Mike Whelan to Oxford in 1966; PH viva happening at Cambridge; CH marriage on world cup final day in 1966, anecdote about World Cup tea towels. [12:00] Story about CH first trip to a conference abroad, Moscow in 1966: anecdote about conditions on Aeroflot aircraft; currency controls; Moscow State University; anecdote about CH organising a sit in to retrieve passports from bureaucracy; CH travels around Moscow; anecdote about Russian women; anecdote about sour milk at cafeteria; basic conditions in Russia; [16:30] conference crystallography subjects; CH talk and keen attendance of sessions; CH research progress. [18:00] Story about CH considering career in industry in 1969: United States Steel Corporation [USSC] offer of a job; Peter Hirsch advising CH to take a temporary job to investigate; USSC need for someone to interpret images from very powerful electron microscope; anecdote about arrival and analysis of Moon rock sample, CH urging further analysis of Earth rock. [22:25] Remarks on CH time in USA: curiosity of pushing their child in a pram in the USA; CH reasons for not taking job offer at USSC, wife not keen on children growing up in USA, CH thinking he needed to learn more at Oxford; CH colleagues Bob Fisher, Scott Larry, anecdote about Scott Larry giving CH a watch; higher salaries in USA; anecdote CH and colleague about playing a practical joke on secretary [section closed] higher science funding and status of scientists in USA than in Britain; [27:20] anecdote about American neighbour manipulating their electricity meter and cultural differences. [28:43] Remarks on CH vacation jobs with Unilever and other UK companies: CH impressions from working with inefficient Leicester company; anecdote about next door neighbour's non-job in British Leyland. [31:00] Remarks on: Peter Hirsch turning down metallurgy chair at Cambridge in favour of building up Oxford department with influx of new staff; contrast of traditional and physics based metallurgy and the advantages of physics based approach to work on electronic materials. [34:15] Description of Peter Hirsch in 1960s: deep insight into new problems; skills in building up department, in spite of limitation of Oxford's collegiate structure, and obtaining new equipment; membership of Science Research Council [SRC]. [37:10] Remarks on CH work at Oxford: X-ray topography; status of CH as a postdoc, but allowed to take on research students, such as Brain Tanner, later a Durham professor, in 1968; main work on electron microscopy, work on silicon and gallium arsenide semiconductors. [39:00] Story about CH's unusual means of getting to a 1969 conference: Mike Whelan informing CH that his research was part Ministry of Defence [MoD] funded; CH convincing MoD to fly him to Australia aboard secret Woomera flights for rocket scientists; anecdote about bomb scare at airport; week long flight with hotel and tour stops at Bahrain and Singapore, anecdote about transvestites on Bugis Street; attitudes of scientists on flight to problematic multinational work on Blue Streak-ELDO rocket with French and Germans [45:45 pause]. Remarks on: scientific civil servants on flight to Australia; CH feelings on being funded by MoD. [47:40] Comments on working at Oxford: stimulating group of postdocs, including David Cockayne, David Joy, who went to American Oak Ridge Labs; working late into evenings; laboratories next to Keeble College; anecdote about wife of Keeble master considering them keen workers; wife's attitude to CH working long hours; anecdote about neighbour's attitude to his long working hours. [50:35] Comments on CH activities in community in Abingdon: mortgage arrangements for house, supported by university; story about CH activities to curtail gravel extraction and rubbish dump behind home, CH standing as candidate for mayor; story about CH and resident association campaign to convince Oxfordshire county council to improve their local school, CH presenting corrected pupil data to MP Airey Neave at time Margaret Thatcher was education minister CH becoming chairman of school governors. [56:40] Remarks on: CH political outlook, voting for local candidate; activities of school governors, anecdotes about CH campaign to get school redecorated, decision to retain potentially dangerous playground equipment, appointment of school caretaker; increasing science teaching in school; reasons for why children should be interested in science, limitations of school science. [1:02:15] Remarks on interests: taking up rowing at Cambridge; starting Christians in Science reading group at Oxford with support of Professor John Houghton, later of Met Office and chair of intergovernmental committee on climate change; membership of local Association of University Teachers [AUT]; voting for Airey Neave; joining science and religion reading group organised by Methodist training college, anecdote about unexpectedly getting on with Catholics dispite influence of Ian Paisley supporter parents. [1:06:25:] Comments on writing OUP published book on Creationism and Evolution for schools, with aid of book: comparison with 'Footsteps in the Stone' film by creationists; approach for writing for children; reception of book; anecdote about teachers photocopying book. [1:12:30] Remarks on creationism and evolution: influence of early chapters of Bible; CH not seeing risks for science in creationism's popularity. [1:15:33] Remarks on: AUT's [Associated Union of Teachers] ineffectiveness as union, poor salaries in 1960s and 70s; brain drain of British scientists to other countries, CH study of Silicon Valley, anecdote about large size of boat race night parties in Pittsburgh, politicians indifference, recent emigration of head of Cavendish Laboratory, Imperial Professor of Nanotechnology and other key people; CH AUT committee activities at Oxford.

  • 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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