David Davies: making scientific instruments with a technician

David Davies describes assistance of Leslie Flavill in making oceanographic instruments in the workshops of the Department of Geodesy and Geophysics, University of Cambridge in the 1960s.

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So I ended up in his room and he said, ‘You’re going to do – we’ve got some new sonobuoys, we’ve just had delivery of them and we’ve got to make electronic circuits for the hydrophones. And we’re going to sea in January and it’s now October and you’ve got to make the,’ make, not – and this wasn’t theoretical, ‘you’ve got to make the – the hydrophones and you’ve got to make the electronic amplifiers so that it goes into the radios and go up – the aerial that end up the signal back at the ship, and best of luck really.’ And so – and I said, ‘Well I’ve – I haven’t been to sea ever before, I’ve – I’ve been on the ferry once or twice across the channel but I haven’t really travelled overseas at all.’ Didn’t matter, didn’t seem to matter [laughs]. ‘No no no no, you’ll learn as you go along.’ I mean he set me to work and I had to design a circuit, put it onto a little sort of plastic strip that would fit inside an aluminium tube that would be attached to a hydrophone, get a battery that would work into it. And I had a lot of help from the – there was a very good technician, senior technician there called Leslie Flavill who really – I mean I mentioned good technicians at the maths lab and he was in the same league of somebody who really knew the subject very well, so, ‘Oh if you want to do this,’ get out a cigarette packet and write on the back of it a little diagram, ‘yes do that, and then you want to drill holes in this plastic thing like that so they can fit together an you need to solder that.’ And so I learnt very quickly things that you were never taught in physics and university, how to solder, how to work with – they were still valves, tiny little valves, how to do that, how to use a lathe, how to drill holes in plastic, all those sort of things, things that you were never let near [laughs] in an undergraduate course. And so … yeah so I had to get the first – had to get my stuff into the water in January and I really had no idea how to make these things waterproof till Leslie said, ‘Oh well you need O rings for that and we’ll pop that in araldite and you’ll do lasso tape around this,’ and so you just got to know all the tools of the trade and the equipment. And, ‘How do you order these valves?’ ‘Well there’s a radio spares catalogue here and I’ll just – how many do you want?’ ‘Twenty-four,’ ‘Well I’ll just ring up and – ’ So it was really pitched into – after all this theoretical physics it was into not even practical physics, it was into sort of just workshop practice.

  • Interviewee David Davies
  • Duration 00:02:52
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Paul Merchant
  • Date of interview 12/15/2011
  • Shelfmark C1379/60

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