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Gadgets and understanding the brain


The World War II bomb site exhibition
Richard Gregory Scientist
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In the war, very end of the war, end of the, actually the German war had just finished, the Japanese war was still running, I was posted directly by the Air Ministry to join a big exhibition that the Air Force had organised. I had nothing to do with the organisation of that at all, but to explain radar and stuff like that to the British public and my memory is that we had four million people round it but I could be exaggerating, but it was a big exhibition. In was in the old bomb-site of John Lewis, it was just a sort of wreck in the middle of Oxford Street, and it ran for, I think, about six months and we had really an amazing variety and number of people come round. And it was absolutely fascinating because you got housewives coming round, say, and then they would see some little component, you know, oh, I made that washer, sort of thing, and we tried to explain what they were doing, why it was important and, of course, a lot of the stuff in the war was made by tiny firms, separate from each other, each not knowing what the other was doing for security reasons. So that this exhibition really tried to pull it together and show people the significance of what they were doing in the factories, and very often they were housewives who had no particular knowledge of anything, they just learned how to make that particular part and we explained what it was all about. We had the first jet plane there and, which, incidentally, I’m very fortunate, I actually saw the very first flight of this very first jet plane at Cranwell in 1944. I just happened to be there when this thing took off with no propeller. A wonderful thing to remember actually, and we had that in the exhibition. I think it was called the P1 Whittle jet plane, and stuff like that, and it really took off, this exhibition, and it had a big impact on me. I felt, golly, the public really can get excited by technology and science and they might really want to know how radar works, you know, this sort of thing. Yeah, I think that had a big affect, certainly when I met Frank Oppenheimer years later of course, this was in my mind and I sort of resonated with him with that background experience. I think that’s true.

The late British psychologist and Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Bristol, Richard Gregory (1923-2010), is well known for his work on perception, the psychology of seeing and his love of puns. In 1978 he founded The Exploratory, an applied science centre in Bristol – the first of its kind in the UK. He also designed and directed the Special Senses Laboratory at Cambridge which worked on the perceptual problems of astronauts, and published many books including 'The Oxford Companion to the Mind', 'Eye and Brain' and 'Mind in Science'.

Listeners: Sally Duensing Adam Hart-Davis

Sally Duensing currently is involved in perception exhibition work and research on science and society dialogue programmes and is working with informal learning research graduate students and post-docs at King's College, London. In 2000 she held the Collier Chair, a one-year invited professorship in the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Bristol, England. Prior to this, for over 20 years she was at the Exploratorium, a highly interactive museum of science, art and perception in San Francisco where she directed a variety of exhibition projects primarily in fields of perception and cognition including a large exhibition on biological, cognitive and cultural aspects of human memory.

Born on 4 July 1943, Adam Hart-Davis is a freelance photographer, writer, and broadcaster. He has won various awards for both television and radio. Before presenting, Adam spent 5 years in publishing and 17 years at Yorkshire Television, as researcher and then producer of such series as Scientific Eye and Arthur C Clarke's World of Strange Powers. He has read several books, and written about 25. His latest books are Why does a ball bounce?, Taking the piss, Just another day, and The cosmos: a beginner's guide. He has written numerous newspaper and magazine articles. He is a keen supporter of the charities WaterAid, Practical Action, Sustrans, and the Joliba Trust. A Companion of the Institution of Lighting Engineers, an Honorary Member of the British Toilet Association, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Society of Dyers and Colourists, and Merton College Oxford, and patron of a dozen charitable organizations, Adam has collected thirteen honorary doctorates, The Horace Hockley Award from the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators, a Medal from the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Sir Henry Royce Memorial Medal from the Institute of Incorporated Engineers, and the 1999 Gerald Frewer memorial trophy of the Council of Engineering Designers. He has no car, but three cycles, which he rides slowly but with enthusiasm.

Duration: 2 minutes, 26 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2006

Date story went live: 02 June 2008