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A Committee of Enquiry and the telescope continues to grow

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Dealing with some of the technical problems and a financial crisis
Bernard Lovell Astronomer
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I'll first of all deal with the problem of the oscillations of the bowl. I was, of course, in constant daily contact with Husband, either in Sheffield, or he would come to Jodrell Bank. And the various problems were solutions were thought. We first of all, Husband thought we could put additional loading on the ends of the- near the trunnians to stop this, but the final solution was to build a circular, stabilising girder running from the extreme diameters of the bowl, and to build on top of the diametrical girder, an enormous, well, not enormous, it was a very large system of hydraulic rubber wheels, like great tractor wheels, on which this stabilising girder would rest, and would move, and this would take out the oscillations. And this is how the telescope was in fact built, with this rather slender, stabilising girder, not load- bearing, but stabilising, and later on the drainage, it also included a method of draining the bowl. It had an internal channel through which holes in the bowl would take the water, and they would overflow on to a trench drain around the diametrical girder. Now, of course this led to a considerable increase in cost. The other trouble was that the- I mentioned the Metropolitan-Vickers estimate for the driving system had doubled, and, worst of all, when the project was put to the Air Ministry, when the Scientific Advisor, they had refused to pay because, not because they were not willing to do so, I mean they, the Air Ministry in principle were fine. The point is that someone in the Treasury had spotted that two different, two different parts of government were about to give money to the same project, namely the Air Ministry and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and they absolutely refused to do this. And so by the end of 1955, we were facing an enormous debt, in fact, in the autumn of that year, when the Bursar and Husband had investigated in what detail they could, we were faced with a deficit of the order of a quarter of a million pounds, and bearing in mind what I said about, that was a vast sum of money in those days, as it would be today. So the Chief Finance Officer of the DSIR was brought to Jodrell, and I remember taking him into the control room, and I said- you know, I thought they would cancel the project, and I said- it was a chap called Joliffe, whom I knew, got to know very well, later on, and I said- well, what are you going to do? He turned to me he said- I don’t know, Lovell, he said- I don't know Lovell but the strength of your position is that huge mass of steel that I'm looking at through the window. Because these towers were then at 180 foot level. Well, what actually happened was that he had in mind that there should be a pound for pound discussion, and that he, that it might be possible for the government department to pay half the costs if the university would be responsible for bearing the other half of the cost.

Bernard Lovell (1913-2012), British radio astronomer and founder of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, received an OBE in 1946 for his work on radar, and was knighted in 1961 for his contribution to the development of radio astronomy. He obtained a PhD in 1936 at the University of Bristol. His steerable radio telescope, which tracked Sputnik across the sky, is now named the Lovell telescope.

Listeners: Alastair Gunn Megan Argo

Alastair Gunn is an astrophysicist at Jodrell Bank Observatory, University of Manchester. He is responsible for the coordination and execution of international radio astronomical observations at the institute and his professional research concerns the extended atmospheres of highly active binary stars. Alastair has a deep interest and knowledge of the history of radio astronomy in general and of Jodrell Bank in particular. He has written extensively about Jodrell Bank's history.

Megan Argo is an astronomer at the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory researching supernovae and star formation in nearby starburst galaxies. As well as research, she is involved with events in the Observatory's Visitor Centre explaining both astronomy and the history of the Observatory to the public.

Tags: Jodrell Bank, Sheffield, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Charles Husband

Duration: 4 minutes, 39 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2007

Date story went live: 05 September 2008