Oral history of British science
Ash, Eric (Part 6 of 13)
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British Library, London
Ash, Eric, 1928- (speaker, male)
Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)
Part 6 [1:06:14] Remarks on starting at University College London [UCL] in 1963: looseness of university environment; anecdote about few students in the audience for his early lectures; need for funding for research, EA first grant from Royal Society to purchase a heavy table for optical experiments; story about EA inheriting predecessor’s Indian PhD student, who was jailed for drug smuggling, leading to debate over whether he should receive PhD after a viva in jail; [04:55] EA senior lecturer potion, promotion to reader after 2 years, and subsequently professor in late 1960s; contrasts of STL and university; size of UCL electrical engineering department. [07:30] Remarks on ultrasonics, EA's original area of research at UCL: work on crystal based amplifiers, overtaken by higher frequency silicon transistors; work introducing EA to surface acoustic waves. [09:50] Remarks on surface acoustic waves [SAW]: surface hugging acoustic waves; discovered in earthquakes by Lord Rayleigh; ability to propagate waves on crystals at high frequencies; applications in electronic delay lines and crystal resonators, used to control frequencies accurately; piezoelectric crystal resonators; telecommunication system's need for stable frequencies; use of quartz crystals as stable resonators; [14:50] electrode structures on surface allowing launching, detection and alteration, such as filtering, of surface waves; novel nature of SAW filters at the time, contemporary work by Tournois in France, A probably awarded first grant in Britain work on SAW filters; EA interest in SAW sparked by use of crystals in amplifiers; anecdote about communicating with expert at Mullard's laboratory; EA talk on use SAW resonators at Dollis Hill Post Office Research Station; description of printing metal stripes onto crystals with photo lithography; [21:10] description of a design for a filter; complex design of a television set filter; EA spending 1969-70 sabbatical working on SAW at IBM in Yorktown Heights. [23:00] Remarks on EA sabbatical at IBM: IBM interest in SAW in computers; EA work on SAW resonators; EA developing interest in very high frequency SAW; Alec Broers work on electron beam lithography, allowing production of masks to make very high frequency SAW crystals; EA support for Alec Broers appointment to at Cambridge University; Alec Broers subsequent career at Cambridge and in house of Lords; description of Alec Broers in 1970s, anecdote about EA not being as good a skier as Alec Broers; [27:20] university-like working conditions at IBM; IBM Zurich laboratories award of consecutive Nobel prize; description of IBM buildings, lack of daylight in laboratories; enlightened working atmosphere; description of IBM's excellent application process for sabbaticals. [32:30] Story about EA dissatisfaction with recruitment process at British Telecom's [BT] Martlesham research laboratory. [33:33] Further remarks on IBM: recruitment through sabbatical visitors; long term success of IBM; influence of sabbatical on EA in recruitment methods, broad minded approach, and patenting; IBM's system for rewarding people taking out patents. [37:10] Comments on UCL: history of religious freedom, liberal mindedness; early supporters of art, engineering and modern languages as academic subjects; men, women and mixed staff lounges persisting into the 1960s, informal segregation of tables by academic discipline; [43:55] generous space for laboratory facilities, comparison with current practice; funding to purchase equipment from university, government and industrial contracts; EA office, anecdote about huge later office at Imperial College; engineering facilities, description of room filled with large motors. [48:48] Comments on experiments on surface acoustic waves: electronic measurements; use of lasers to deduce velocity of wave propagation. [51:43] Remarks on working at UCL: daily activities at UCL as a mix of office work, tutorials, supervising students in laboratory, lecturing, library research, IEE meetings; PhD student supervision and selection of research topics; [56:33] EA PhD student Kumar Wickramasinghe who worked on acoustic holography and later became a professor at San Diego in USA; importance of PhD students as research labour, varying in different subjects; anecdote about EA principle of listing publication authors in reverse alphabetical order, encouraging student to write papers independently; pressures to publish; [1:01:25] EA happiness working at UCL; changes in UCL over EA's 20 years there; anecdote about ineffective 1970s cost reduction committee; anecdote about email from David Edgerton's wife about cost reductions at UCL; anecdote about UCL health service contraception service.
Interview with electrical engineer, Eric Ash