Oral history of British science
Ash, Eric (Part 5 of 13)
The British Library Board acknowledges the intellectual property rights of those named as contributors to this recording and the rights of those not identified.
Legal and ethical usage »
British Library, London
Ash, Eric, 1928- (speaker, male)
Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)
Part 5 [1:06:31][Interview Three: 11 March 2013] Further remarks on work at STL: involvement with microwave tubes for communications; advantages of microwave communications over cables; description of microwave communication system; importance of travelling wave tubes to, developed by John Pierce of Bell Laboratories and Rudy Kompfner. [04:45] Discussion about slow wave structures such as helix, that slow electromagnetic waves to allow them to be amplified: importance of developing improved slow wave tubes; EA work on non-helical slow wave structures; ideal bandwidth, loss and magnetic field requirements of slow wave structure; industry producing slow wave structures; other applications of slow wave structures. [08:00] Description of microwave transmission towers. [08:55] Remarks on electronic engineering equipment and methods in the 1960s: microwave detectors; EA writing first computer program in 1962; calculating machines, earlier used extensively by EA as a student; using a slide rule and logarithms to do calculations; anecdote about EA suggesting to daughters' school that electronic calculators might replace slide rules in 1969 [correction, interviewee meant 1979]; calculations involved in designing a microwave tube; solving Maxwell's equations on electromagnetism. [15:20] Discussing about computing in 1960s: EA first program to solve simultaneous equations, with help from officemate; input through punched tape and punched cards; shared computer facilities, until EA at UCL in 1980s; anecdote about union concerns over computers replacing secretaries; restricted access to computer in 1960s; anecdote about EA always using typewriters for work due to poor handwriting; concerns over accuracy of computer programmes; opposition to climate change computer models by sceptic groups; [22:10] checking of computer results; EA suspicion of computer results; comparisons of trust in computers with trust in laboratory experiment results; implicit nature of computerisation. [24:42] Remarks on EA use of computing in surface acoustic waves: use of surface acoustic wave filters in mobile phones; high level of computation involved in designing complex filters. [26:50] Remarks on: importance of techniques more than mathematics to electronics, such as in microprocessor design; testing of Boeing 787 airliner; anecdote about Lord Nuffield refusing to employ graduates in Morris car factory; rarity of branches of technology today that do not require considerable calculation. [30:10] Remarks on practical work at STL: balance of practical and theoretical work; use of multiple technologies in a single design, such as development of glass to metal seals developed in World War Two; making cathodes; support of laboratory technicians and workshops in making things; [34:25] anecdote about EA deciding to make his own equipment, during a sabbatical to the Ecole de Physique Chimie Paris in 1979; delegation of practical tasks at STL to technicians, such as glass-blowers; importance of practical knowledge for scientists and engineers; partnership nature of working with technicians; example of working on an experiment on super resolution microscopy with Nichol, an electronics technician, at STL that lead to a letter in 'Nature' who suffered from Alzheimer's ; description of super resolution microscopy, [39:40] EA and Nichol working together on experiments. [40:47]Remarks on STL: limited contact with universities, EA giving lectures at UCL and a polytechnic; contact with government laboratories, such as Services Electronic Research Laboratory [SERL] at Baldock and Royal Signals and Radar Establishment [RSRE] at Malvern, and other companies over radar work; anecdote about loyalty of scientists to their work rather than their company; working with scientific civil servants; [45:28] EA progression in STL, promotion to run group after AH Beck left to teach at Cambridge; AE boss Alec Reeve; EA management style; change in EA responsibilities as he became a manager. [48:45] Story about how EA joined UCL: telephone call from Harold Barlow head of department of electrical engineering; shorter commute to UCL than Harlow; EA reaching level at STL where next promotion would take him away from research. [50:30] Remarks on AE wife and family: wife's career teaching at teacher training college and London South Bank University, starting youth theatre group, enjoying design and buildings, leading to involvement with buying properties; children's birth in 1950s and 1960s; anecdote about having 5 daughters; hectic family life; [54:52] EA working hard as an academic, value of academic freedom in raising children; reflections on parenting; EA hope for daughters being independent; anecdote about EA trying to teach daughters to swim; anecdote about daughters' swimming club; anecdote about daughters becoming better at swimming in sea than EA. [1:00:20] Remarks on: EA making furniture for first home; EA salary at STL, importance of wife having a salary too; EA feelings that daughters should be independent; few women working at STL.
Interview with electrical engineer, Eric Ash