Oral history of British science

Islam, Saiful (5 of 8) Oral History of British Science

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    Department of Chemistry, University of Bath

  • Interviewees

    Islam, Saiful, 1963-(speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 5: Story of move from UK to Rochester, New York; beginnings of work at research laboratory of EKC. Comments on members of research group joined, including their expectations/assumptions about self based on name ‘Saiful Islam’; routine of working day; Rochester and EKC, with some description. [7:20] Comments on differences between UCL and EKC; relations with RB. [10:02] Comments on political discussion with members of research group. [12:41] Comments on lack of awareness of groups in US representing ethnic minority scientists. Mentions Chinese-American director of the research laboratory. Comments on friends made at EKC. [14:44] Story of talk on own research in research laboratory. Comments on feeling of having ‘fitted into’ research group. [17:10] Description of work undertaken at EKC, involving computer modelling of location and effect of ‘dopants’ (added atoms) on superconducting oxide. [22:19] Comments on effect of PhD and postdoctoral work in developing significant interest in continuing research; decision to apply for lectureships in UK. [26:35] Comments on social life in Rochester, centred on anti-apartheid political group, Rochester Committee for Latin America [ROCLA]. Mentions girlfriend. Comments on activities of ROCLA, in support of people’s movements in Latin America through lobbying/campaigning in relation to US foreign policy. Mentions membership of football team. Comments on separation of scientific work and political activity; openness about own ‘progressive’ politics at EKC, including description of satirical poster of Ronald Reagan’s view of the rest of the world placed on coffee room wall by self. Mentions small number of scientists involved in ROCLA. [38:13] Comments on confidence in and ‘passion’ for research, developed during postdoctoral work, EKC. Story of computer modelling work at EKC that assisted interpretation of spectroscopic analysis of defect in inorganic phosphor. Mentions related publication. Comments on publications co-authored with RB; lack of role models who had become academic scientists with comprehensive-school background. [42:47] Story of successful interview for post of lecturer, University of Surrey [UOS], Guildford, early 1989. [48:48] Comments on encouragement from others to apply for job, UOS; sources of confidence. Mentions postdoctoral position at RIGB offered by RC; significant teaching component of UOS position; parents’ positive view of UOS position. [52:33] Comments on continuation of work on computer modelling of superconducting oxides at UOS; success [in 1993] in attracting funding for PhD studentship, linked to British Petroleum, on oxide catalysts for methane conversion; effect on research of teaching commitments and relative smallness of chemistry department, UOS. [58:02] Comments on reasons for contemporary interest in superconductors. [59:25] Story of origin of own atheism and humanism, including reading of The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins [RD], membership of British Humanist Association [BHA], awareness of communities set against each other by religion (including Hindus and Muslims, different forms of Christianity in Northern Ireland), valuing of scientific reason. [1:05:11] Story of development of own atheism/humanism from 9/11 terrorist attack onwards, including comments on RD. [1:10:29] Comments on BHA. Mentions support for an elected House of Lords. [1:13:25] Story of visits to Bangladesh with parents and sisters. [1:24:34] Comments on tendency to have spoken in English to parents, with mother speaking back in Bengali. [1:25:30] Story of development of relationship with future wife, Gita, in the 1990s. Comments on wife’s occupation as GP from 1997; living arrangements. [1:32:01] Story of development of own research at UOS from early 1990s, including joint PhD studentship with RC (on perovskite oxide materials for solid oxide fuel cells [SOFC]). Comments on first publication on oxygen ion conduction in perovskite oxides, 1995, as beginning of further research on SOFCs. [1:34:53] Description of a SOFC. Comments on reasons for own interest in development of SOFCs, through computer modelling of ion conduction in the electrolyte. Further description of a SOFC. Description of perovskite structure of electrolyte material lanthanum gallium oxide [LGO]. Comments on ‘vacancy’ mechanism of ion conduction in LGO (involving missing oxygen ion produced by ‘doping’); results of own group’s computer modelling, including demonstration that the path of the ions is curved. [1:41:07] Comments on relations between own group’s computer modelling of various features of potential perovskite structured electrolyte materials, and the development of actual SOFCs; identification of importance of ‘local relaxation’ of crystal lattice during diffusion of ions; difficulty in comprehending/describing rate of ion diffusion. [1:45:20] Comments on the way computer modelling has been viewed by chemists using more traditional methods, including ‘experimentalists’; role of scepticism in ‘scientific method’. [1:48:32] Comments on developments in computer technology affecting computer modelling in chemistry. Mentions Cray 1S computer used at UCL during PhD. [1:50:34] Description of three types of computer modelling used by self/own group: ‘energy minimisation’, ‘molecular dynamics’, ‘density function theory’ (DFT). Comments on ‘electrical properties’ of materials. [1:54:38] Brief comments on focus of/development of research of own group at UOS, during period 1995-2000. Mentions invited conference talks; review article on perovskite oxide materials for SOFCs. [1:55:52] Story of development of new research in early 2000s, following appointment of experimentalist Peter Slater [PS], on possible SOFC electrolyte materials with apatite structure. Comments on role of PS in this collaboration; properties of apatite materials, including oxygen ion conduction at lower temperatures than perovskite materials, and involving mechanism depending on ‘interstitial’ defects, rather than ‘vacancy’ defects. Mentions co-authored papers; EPSRC funding. [2:00:10] Comments on own feelings about working on clean energy materials; level of interest in environmental movement, including dislike of ‘anti-science’ elements. [2:03:36] Mentions own ‘outreach’ public lectures using 3D-glasses. Comments on public understanding of chemistry, including meanings attached to words ‘chemical’ and ‘natural’. [2:07:20] Comments on atomic structures of crystalline solid materials as personal confirmation of ‘beauty’ of natural world. Mentions RD’s ‘Unweaving the Rainbow’. [2:10:38] Comments on occasions when others have assumed own Muslin faith as a result of own surname

  • Description

    Interview with Professor of Computational Materials, Saiful Islam

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    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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