Oral history of British science
Ash, Eric (Part 3 of 13)
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British Library, London
Ash, Eric, 1928- (speaker, male)
Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)
Part 3 [1:00:56] [Interview Two: 29 January 2013] Remarks on PhD: limited impact of postwar shortages on research; difficulties with vacuum tubes and cathodes; EA attraction to theoretical work, but not thinking he was good enough at it; description of theoretical work in PhD. [03:55] Remarks on life at Imperial College: other PhD students; large degree of freedom; anecdote about friend working exclusively at night; typical day, with EA working late into the night after dinner at Joe Lyons; New Zealander friend John Andreae; social life limited by lack of money; interest in music, concerts and playing in UCL Orchestra as Imperial College's lack of orchestra, Albert Hall proms; links between music and science, EA later spending time enhancing Imperial College music teaching, including physics with music course in association with Royal College of Music; rowing on river, enjoyments in sculling; independent nature of skiing and sculling. [12:00] Remarks: description of himself as he approached end of PhD; taking time off PhD work in afternoons for reading; humour, concerns over humour and religion; female friends, few women at university; girlfriends; date activities, theatre; winning IEE Oliver Lodge scholarship after graduation improving his finances; [17:50] career prospects at end of PhD, desire to see some of the world, especially USA; anecdote about parents holidays in Whipsnade marking furthest horizons during war; AE 1949 cycling holiday in France; not wanting to discuss what he was going to do next, loner streak in EA. [21:05] Remarks on work in USA: writing to well known universities for a position with a good climate; choosing to go to Stanford; climate in California; EA working on microwave tubes at Stanford; importance and applications of microwave tubes, such as Stanford linear particle accelerator; improvements in klystron tubes; entrepreneurial attitudes pre-dating Silicon Valley; military funding for work; anecdote about EA writing a report on a tube he designed for a military radar, but not being allowed a copy of the report. [26:50] Remarks on tube design process, systems designer handing requirement to tube research laboratory. [28:10] Remarks on Stanford microwave electronics department: interface between physics and electrical engineering; colleagues; EA postdoc status ad salary; EA and Dean Watkins writing a theoretical paper, Watkins also starting Watkins-Johnson company; EA interest in politics but not active involvement, satisfaction at voting for UK to join Common Market in 1974, voting mainly for the person; McCarthyism in 1950s America, anecdote about driving across USA listening to McCarthy trials en route. [34:55] remarks on American wife Clare: meeting at Stanford where she was a theatre and drama postgraduate student; early impressions of wife to be and her enthusiasm; first meeting her when she was working in a restaurant; tutoring children in Latin; decision to get married; children having dual nationality; wife's feelings about in EA's work; anecdote about wide only marrying him to get to London; secretly living together before getting married to avoid scandal in 1950s attitudes; skiing together. [39:50] Remarks on conditions in USA: lack of rationing in USA compared to Britain; supermarkets in USA; purchasing car; rented home near Stanford golf course; higher salary in USA, anecdote about sending sister money for a refrigerator; description of buildings EA worked in at Stanford; Stanford practices of allowing people to audit any lectures they liked and allowing visitors from other subjects in PhD examinations; [44:39] superb facilities and resources; free working atmosphere; other British people at Stanford, such as Alan brown, who EA met on voyage over to USA on Queen Mary. [47:17] Remarks on microwave tubes: EA not involved in tubes since 1957; electron beam and microwave structures; resonator; Bell Laboratories' invented travelling wave tube using propagating structure rather than resonator; limiting microwaves to speed of electrons such as using slow wave structures; EA research into slow wave structures; making concentrated electron beam using external electric or magnetic fields; [53:20] limitations on concentration of electron beam, discovered by Langmuir; limitations of transistors compared to tubes in high power applications. [55:15] Remarks on: early Silicon Valley atmosphere in USA, EA contacts with Hewlett Packard, Varian Brothers, Watkins-Johnson, Watkins-Johnson open plan offices with table tennis; Hewlett Packard encouraging staff to study masters courses; entrepreneurial atmosphere of the time, plenty of funding available for microwave companies; EA not seeing himself as an entrepreneur; wanting to return home to be near parents; EA discussions with wife about returning to USA later.
Interview with electrical engineer, Eric Ash