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Being valued as a lab technician


The Laboratory of Lubricants and Bearings
Norman Greenwood Scientist
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Well, let me get back now to CSIR. Shall I spend just a little bit of time saying about what they were doing? There were several groups. It was a laboratory which was set up by Philip Bowden, whom I think you will know from Cambridge?

[Q] Yes, of course, yes.

He had come over to England on an 1851 Scholarship, which I'll mention again later, but he had stayed in Cambridge and was making a name for himself in friction and in electrochemistry. But when the... just before the war started, when things were looking a bit dodgy in Europe, he came back home with his then young family and his wife to Hobart in Tasmania, where he came from, and whilst he was there war was declared and, as you'll know, Australia declared war at the same time, and so he was there. He was what I would call an entrepreneur: a charming man, hardworking, but he got what he wanted and he certainly knew what he wanted, which was to help the war effort by setting up a laboratory. He worked tirelessly on the professors at Melbourne: my father who was Professor of Metallurgy, Hartung who was Professor of Physics [sic- should be Chemistry], the Professor of Physics, Laby. He then went up to Canberra, sweet-talked the people up there, finally got this laboratory founded, which was Laboratory of Lubricants and Bearings, which, purposely was a pretty gruff and rough sounding thing, 'lubricants and bearings', because he wanted to be taken seriously and he wanted the help of Australian industry.

Now, there were very... several groups. One was the rubbing of surfaces, what is friction, how do you measure friction, how do you reduce friction? This was obviously related to bearings in aero engines, for example. And he brought out someone, whom again you'll know, David Tabor from Cambridge, he set up that part of it. Another part, which was the one that I was on, was on explosive sensitivity of nitroglycerine. That was set up by Abe Yoffe, whom you will know, a lot of them came to Cambridge again after the war, Maurice Mulcahy, and I was their personal research assistant.

Norman Greenwood (1925-2012) was born in Australia and graduated from Melbourne University before going to Cambridge. His wide-ranging research in inorganic and structural chemistry made major advances in the chemistry of boron hydrides and other main-group element compounds. He also pioneered the application of Mössbauer spectroscopy to problems in chemistry. He was a prolific writer and inspirational lecturer on chemical and educational themes, and held numerous visiting professorships throughout the world.

Listeners: Brian Johnson

Professor Brian FG Johnson FRS, FRSE, FRS Chem, FAcad Eu, FAS. Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Edinburgh 1991-1995, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Cambridge 1995-2005, Master Fitzwilliam College Cambridge 1999-2005. Research interests include studies of transition metal carbonyls, organometallic chemistry, nano- particles and homogeneous catalysis. Professor Johnson is the author of over 1000 research articles and papers.

Tags: CSIR, Cambridge University, UK, 1851 Exhibition Scholarship, WWII, Europe, Tasmania, Australia, University of Melbourne, Professor of Metallurgy, University of Canberra, Frank Philip Bowden, Ernst Johannes Hartung, T. H. Laby, David Tabor, Abe Yoffe, Maurice Mulcahy

Duration: 3 minutes, 2 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2011

Date story went live: 25 November 2011