Oral history of British science
Ash, Eric (Part 7 of 13)
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British Library, London
Ash, Eric, 1928- (speaker, male)
Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)
Part 7 [47:04][Interview four: 25 March 2013] Comments on research in acoustic imagining at UCL: description of how acoustic imagining works, piezoelectric acoustic source, acoustic lenses; acoustic images; limited scope of acoustic microscopy, use in areas such as non-destructive testing in engineering. [03:35] Further remarks on research in surface acoustic wave filters: early anticipated applications, such as acoustic-electrical amplifiers, silicon based transistors overtaking developments; research of Tournous; RSRE work in area. [06:50] Remarks on: origins of idea of acoustic imagining; EA research concerned with complete systems, trying to interest industry in production; British companies not marketing acoustic microscopes; British industry's lack of success in producing new technology compared to foreign companies, with exceptions such as Cambridge Instruments and scanning electron microscopes; [09:54] possible restriction] EA recent experience with an MRI scanner, disappointment at Britain not exploiting early MRI development; difficulties advising PhD students where to work in industry. [11:00] Remarks on Britain's lack of success at exploiting innovations successful: British companies reluctance to spend money on research and development, such as GEC; STL's relatively good record in supporting research, with example of Charles Kao's work on optic fibres; STL's purchase by Canadian Nortel company; EA inaugural lecture at UCL on applied research in the university, highlighting need to spend money on applied rather than pure research; [15:35] gradual change in Science and Engineering Research Council [SERC] to take applied research more seriously, EA sitting on SERC committees; example of Cyril Hilsum's success in applied research in liquid crystals; big company boards and pursuit of pure research hindering success; Nobel Prize winner Peter Medawar's essay on UK pure science; EA encouraging industry links at UCL, such as with GEC, STL, ITT, and Plessey, to limited success; EA later experience with GEC funding of PhD students, problems of minimal financial support and patent rights; [20:38] academics limited time to mount campaign to change situation; change in situation to support more applied research; Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) dominating university activity, requirement to start spin off companies to demonstrate impact of research. [24:02 pause mic problems] Further remarks on UCL: lack of evidence based funding 1960s, leading government to favour funding Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial; anecdote about EA discovering Imperial had been over funded; academics motivated by peer recognition. [26:12] from Comments on Royal Society [RS]: few engineers elected to RS; EA election to RS; RS election process, sponsored by F E Jones of Mullard; hard work involved in advocating a persons RS nomination; increased difficulty in becoming a fellow; RS surprise at nomination; differences RS fellowship makes; [31:51] EA involvement with RS committees; process for nominating and voting on new fellows; EA duties as treasurer of RS; EA supporting increase in the number of science advisers; [37:25] RS financial arrangements, later David Sainsbury chaired commission to raise £100 million, low rent of Carlton House Terrace headquarters; examples of key issues in EA time at RS, BSE and climate change. [40:00] Remarks on EA interest in climate change: EA involvement in RS reports 'Nuclear energy: The future climate' an 'Economic instruments for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions'; recent failure of EU to support Kyoto agreement; anecdote about EA becoming interested in nuclear energy after daughter protesting against nuclear power c 1981; value of FRS status allowing EA to give many lectures; [44:40] EA support for nuclear energy; safety and risks; mistakes in Fukushima disaster.
Interview with electrical engineer, Eric Ash