Julia King: working in the PhD lab

Julia King recalls the fun of working in the PhD metallurgy laboratory in 1970s Cambridge.

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There were two very prominent research groups in the department. There was the steel group, which was run by Professor Honeycombe, that was his research group, and they were kind of – they were kind of big and noisy and they had their very high profile laboratory on the – on the top floor, just next door to the tearoom, that everybody had to walk past when we went for tea or coffee in the department. And they were kind of – I think they saw themselves as top dog in the department. And John’s research – John Knott’s team – where were we at that time? Well, as I recollect, we had the lab opposite the steel group on the way to the library. I had a – I had a desk at the library end, not along under the window, at the – at the wall that was adjacent to the library. There were two fume cupboards down the other side of the lab. There was a big bench in the middle where we sawed up specimens and prepared samples for electron microscopy and things. And then there was a – there was a vice. And I can’t remember whether the vice was on the end of the main bench in the centre at the far end from the library or whether it was just beyond the fume cupboards, whether we had a – a workbench with a vice on it there. ‘Cause I – this vice became a big part of my life ‘cause I – I tested quite large pieces of steel mostly and I had to do – I had then to saw off quite often the fracture surfaces to examine the – the failure behaviour. And I was almost totally incompetent with a hacksaw and I used to get terribly, terribly teased. And I did indeed one day burst into tears when somebody was having a go at me for having no idea how to use a hacksaw. So Richard Smith decided he had to teach me how to use a hacksaw properly [laughs], which he did. But we used to spend a lot of time playing practical jokes on each other. We used to – we all used to acquire the most – the most extravagant toolboxes. That was something; who had the best toolbox. And there was a feeling that Dave Currie, I remember, had rather too good a toolbox and that – and that everybody was a bit jealous, so I remember once when Dave was away at a conference, they bolted Dave’s toolbox to the – they took all Dave’s tools out – tools out of his toolbox and we bolted Dave’s toolbox to the floor and then put all the tools back in [laughs]. And then occasionally we would decide we hadn’t got enough furniture, and when we decided we hadn’t got enough furniture we would all come in at the weekend and steal furniture from steel group’s lab [laughs]. And they would all come and steal it back the next weekend usually [laughs]. But it was – yes, it was good fun, very good fun. And in between that we did some research [laughs].

  • Interviewee Julia King
  • Duration 00:03:02
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Thomas Lean
  • Date of interview 3/29/2011
  • Shelfmark C1379/43

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