Oral history of British science

Humphreys, Colin (5 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 5: Comments on: contrast between traditional and physics based metallurgists, ability of new metallurgy to design materials for specific purposes, such a CH work on Gallium Nitride; radical nature of idea of designing materials, with reference to Hume-Rothery's book about young and old metallurgist discussing the subject and comparison with DNA in biology. [03:20] Remarks outlining CH research from 1960s at Oxford: interpreting electron micrographs; developing theory of how electrons are absorbed by materials leading to c.1968 publications; CH applying theories to Gallium Arsenide and Silicon, leading to interaction with industry to investigate problems in semiconductors and develop new battery materials for British Rail. [06:00] Story about work on sodium-sulphur cell batteries for British Rail: problems with batteries catching fire; sponsorship of 2 research students; investigation of materials using electron microscopes revealing quality control problems; British Rail Derby research centre investing in project; cancellation of project [08:43] Remarks on: semiconductor work with Plessey; anecdote about advising Rolls-Royce not to invest in a new alloy; development and application of theory of electron diffraction to different materials; matrices calculations from CH PhD thesis; CH use of more advanced computers, EDSAC 2, Atlas at Rutherford Appleton Lab. [12:10] Remarks on using Atlas: problems with programs; applying for computer time; using FORTRAN and ALGOL with punched cards; importance of computing to research. [13:55] Remarks on electron microscopes: description of aberration corrector lenses used in modern electron microscopes to improve images, in spite of early theory saying it was impossible, allowing viewing of single atoms; availability and use of microscopes in 1960s and today; working at night to reduce vibrations on microscopes. [17:08] Remarks on: CH decision to work on Silicon and Gallium Arsenide in the 1960s, topical and competitive subject. [18:45] Remarks on CH colleagues at Oxford: David Cockayne; Ian Ray, who later worked at EURATOM: David Joy who worked in Oak Ridge Labs in America; David Grub who went to Cornell University in America; Max Wilson, who went into industry; John Jakubovics, who stayed at Oxford until death; Mike Gorringe, who become dean of engineering at Surrey; success of group a tribute to Peter Hirsch. [20:00] Comments on other CH duties at Oxford: supervising PhD students; becoming Jesus College Junior Research Fellow, and admitting first metallurgy students; anecdote about CH conversation with principal John Habakkuk on first day at Jesus College; anecdote about CH role as department safety officer, difficulties of safety in an experimental environment, and a visit from the heath and safety inspector to CH and Peter Hirsch. [25:45] Remarks on family: child born before CH trip to Pittsburg for US Steel in 1969; CH two children attending school in Arizona whilst CH was at University of Arizona and Bell Labs in 1979; CH daughters becoming scientists; anecdote about CH buying daughters dolls on his travels, after an unsuccessful attempt to interest them in science through train sets; bedtime stories; CH away from home much; children's schooling, daughter winning scholarship to St Helen's school in Abingdon; discussing science with children; CH reasoning behind purchasing daughters train sets; story about daughter becoming interested in astronomy through CH colleague; CH wife's work as a science teacher before children, after chemistry education at Imperial; anecdote about wife returning to teaching after inflation affected their mortgage after move to Liverpool; CH not discussing work much at home.

  • 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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