Category: Research

Imperial College Video Prospectuses 1993

20 years ago, in 1993, an attempt was made at the production of an ideally ongoing video prospectus, one for undergraduates and one for postgraduates.

Unusually for a student recruitment piece, these were conceived by the then Rector’s wife, Clare Ash and produced by her daughter Jenny (who was working in TV production) – effectively making two videos in parallel using a great number of the same shoots in both.  Without more involvement from the departments and central services, the videos perhaps didn’t capture the imagination of academics or administrators.

Probably ahead of its time, the project didn’t have the required support from the offices handling recruitment and PR and it didn’t continue – but they do capture the spirit and feel of the College some twenty years ago.


Undergraduate Video
If you look at this, see the graphics and say “What?”, then you’ll know my thoughts, both then and even now some twenty years on! There are great shots of the old language lab and Richard Dickins with the college orchestra, both of these showing the non science side of Imperial. Once more we have some (now) important archive shots of Prince’s Gardens and the old halls, especially Linstead Hall showing the famous evening meal (photo on right). This was the only time this was recorded and is special for that reason. We also featured IC Radio, STOIC and Felix in production for that weeks edition. And finally we have the first ever video shots of a Commemoration Day at the Royal Albert Hall.

Postgraduate Video
In general this will look more or less the same as the undergraduate version, but includes some now unique shots of Lord George Porter working in his lab in the basement of the Beit Building (photo on left). We also ventured out to Silwood Park to show some research work going on there. At this time the Science Communication course had started and we almost featured ourselves by showing two of the students working at our editing suite (even though this was of course staged). Finally a great and short-lived hall is featured. Does anyone remember the Postgraduate only Montpelier Hall in Montpelier Street, almost within sight of Harrods? Well, that’s in here too towards the end of the video.

Its such a shame that neither of these videos were appreciated within the college because a massive amount of time and effort went into making them both. We used about 12 or more one-hour video cassettes for the ‘rushes’ and because they contain some very unique material such as George Porter I still have them today in our video archive. See what you think and let me know if you are seen appearing in either of them. Some years after we made them both, several boxes of unused and unrequired VHS tape copies of both of the videos were returned to me, they were all thrown in the bin!

Colin Grimshaw October 2013

Promotion: 4 – Mastering the Future 1985

Back in 2010 I brought you the two videos that were made to coincide with the City and Guilds centenary in 1985, they were Studying for the Future and Discovering the Future. I had promised to bring you a third video made later in that year called Mastering the Future. Obviously, this video was intended to showcase and promote the idea of taking a masters degree at Imperial College.

Key figures from Industry were featured to give a sense of what was required from University students taking such masters degrees. One person appearing was Sir George Porter, later Lord Porter who was then President of the Royal Institution. Later he moved to Imperial College to continue his research work. By the time the video was made Eric Ash had become Rector, superseding Brian Flowers. One of the few recordings that we have of Professor Bruce Sayers, then head of computing and also dean of City and Guilds is part of this video. Once more there are some great views of ‘Imperial past’ featured such as: the original front entrance on Exhibition Road; Sports Centre and Gym; Libraries and the 1960’s Walkway with Bookshop.

Colin Grimshaw September 2013

Japan Office Promo 1993

Solid state physics group

So far in writing these blog updates I have always had a wealth of information available to allow me to give some background to the making of the video. Usually I say something about the division or department for which the video was made. Twenty years ago in 1993 I was asked by the Imperial College Japan Office (based at South Kensington) to make a video to showcase the research work being undertaken in various departments at that time.  An initial quick search by my colleague Anne Barrett from the college archives had revealed nothing! But, at the last minute Anne has saved the day with some background information she has managed to unearth. The Japan Office was established within Industrial Liaison in 1991 and was seen by Imperial College as “..a long-term commitment to fostering and strengthening its academic and contractual links with Japan”. Its main focus was to negotiate research contacts with Japan, but a fleeting reference in Hannah Gays history of Imperial says “…plans to open a Japan Office did not result in any serious Japanese investment in the college.” So, I can only assume that this is why it closed or more likely merged into another division. So, all I can do is to point out some of the interesting items featured and the research being undertaken when the video was made.

ECOTRON at Silwood Park

At the time, there was a great deal of activity relating to interdisciplinary research centres or IRC’s. The commentary points out that there were three government funded IRC’s at Imperial College,  “..more than any other establishment in the country”. Great emphasis was made on the connections with: Hitachi; Nippon Steel; Fujitsu and Honda. Also, the locating of the Honda European Technology Centre on the college campus was pointed out. We then broke the video into various sections that you will see when you watch it. But these do include: Aerodynamics; Composite Materials; Semiconductor Design; Technology for Medicine and the worlds first Ecotron, opened at Silwood Park in 1991, only two years before I made the video. One other interesting item featured in the video is the ALICE computer -parallel graph reduction machine- produced in conjunction with ICL. The video starts with a brief history of the formation of Imperial College from its beginnings after the Great Exhibition held in Hyde Park in 1851.

Colin Grimshaw August 2013

Engineering with Atoms

26 years ago, in 1987 I made a promotional video for the Department of Materials. It had a slightly grander title that usual, “Engineering with Atoms: Materials, Science and Engineering at Imperial College”. Once again this video is a treasure of scenes and images of life at Imperial College in the mid 1980’s. And, as with most promotional videos that we made, it contained a large amount of ‘stock footage’ from previous videos and some of this is now notable because of the vast changes that have taken place on the South Kensington campus.

As with all promotional videos an enormous input was required from the actual department in terms of what they needed to say and to show. Getting the words right is vital, so from the department I was aided by colleagues: Kilner, Rawlings, Flower and Walker. The latter two also provided the male and female voice-overs heard on the video. Harvey Flower is notable because of his tragic death in April 2005. He’s also seen in one sequence sitting at an electron microscope and later on he’s standing with his colleague at a departmental party.

Other worthy mentions are Princes Gardens with its old layout design and masses of colourful summer flowers, along with the original halls of residence. Also making an appearance are the 1960’s frontage of buildings facing onto Exhibition Road; the walkway and JCR. Making it into the video as well is the old swimming pool and tennis courts (located where the new Eastside Halls now stand). I’m fairly certain that the departmental library would have been merged into the central library, so shots of that in the video are also a record of daily life in the department. In fact the whole video is a snapshot of what Imperial College was like in 1987 and a true Video Archive post if ever there was one!

The usual tape problems occurred with the digitisation of this video, so any slight glitches or jumps are due to those problems. As always, if you are seen in this video please do let us know where you are now and what you are doing. Use the reply box below to make contact with me.

Colin Grimshaw August 2013

Bob Spence, still going strong at 80

I have rediscovered a fascinating interview with Professor Bob (Robert) Spence, Professor Emeritus of Information Engineering & Senior Research Investigator in EEED. Today, Bob turns 80 and what better way to help him celebrate than bringing to your attention this interview from 1994. At the time, the TV Studio was still in operation and I was making a monthly video for a computer company called Lantec. A former TV Studio colleague of mine, Steve Bell, who worked for Lantec, asked me if we would make these videos for distribution to their company clients. The result was a programme we called Video Interface. This video is from Edition 13, from December 1994 and Steve is talking to Bob about his research work. I take no credit for the remaining text below, as it comes from Bob’s own personal web page at Imperial. I have added however a few links to videos I made with Bob on some of the subjects mentioned.

Bob’s research has ranged from engineering design to human-computer interaction and often with the manner in which the latter can enhance the former. Notable contributions, usually in collaboration with colleagues, include the powerful generalized form of Tellegen’s Theorem; algorithms for improving the manufacturing yield of mass-produced circuits; and, in the field of Human-computer Interaction, the invention of the first focus+context technique, the Bifocal Display (aka Fisheye lens). The novel Attribute and Influence Explorers provide examples of novel information visualization tools that have wide application, including engineering design. Interactive computer graphics allows the electronic circuit designer to sketch the familiar circuit diagram on a computer display. This potential was pioneered by Bob and his colleagues in the late 1960s and eventually, in 1985, led to the commercially available MINNIE system developed and marketed by a company of which Bob was chairman and a founding director. More recently, Bob’s research has focused on the topic of Rapid Serial Visual Presentation in which a collection of images is presented sequentially and rapidly to a user who may be searching for a particular image. This activity is similar to the riffling of a book’s pages.


spence 51 yearsAnd yet more news about Bob in April 2014 is that he has now achieved 51 years of service at Imperial College. See this article and scroll down to read about it. In the article Bob says “I’ve always said that if something is fun, it’s worth doing – and I’ve certainly had a lot of fun over the past 51 years.  Imperial has always had a fantastic community, and it boasts some exceptional students. They are the reason I continued to teach after my retirement – I never tire of working with them….”

Colin Grimshaw April 2014

Honda Wind Tunnel Opening July 1985

28 years ago today on July 8th 1985 a project between Imperial College and the Honda Automobile Company was celebrated with the official opening of the new Honda Wind Tunnel in the Department of Aeronautics.

The Aeronautics Wind Tunnel today

Earlier in that decade the Honda company had approached the college and offered to pay the costs of the construction of a large wind tunnel. It transpires that Honda were trailing behind competitors in their car design and needed help. They offered to pay the construction costs in return for the testing of car models and the training of staff in wind tunnel technology. Professor Peter Bearman from Imperial College oversaw the design and construction, he can be seen towards the end of the video. Former Rector the late Lord Brian Flowers makes the initial presentation, followed by the then head of the department, Dr Glyn Davies. The design and construction created, at the time, one of the world’s largest wind tunnels. The contract with Imperial College was also one of the biggest between a Japanese automobile company and an academic institution.

The tunnel was opened by Mr Fujio Ishikawa, Senior Managing Director of the Honda Motor Company. You can read a full page article about the wind tunnel in the Imperial College student newspaper Felix dated 17 May 1985, scroll down to page 6 on the PDF.


Colin Grimshaw July 2013


Imperial’s external TV view

Over the years, many film and TV companies have come to Imperial College. I recall regular visits to the South Kensington campus by BBC TV’s “Tomorrows World” and in some cases I watched them at work. But these visits have all disappeared with no record retained by the college. This is a great shame because these are part of the history of Imperial, its staff and more importantly its research.

But there is just one item that was retained in the archives. Although it doesn’t have any form of introduction titles, it was made, (I think) by the Central Office of Information in about 1969. I certainly remember the filming of the opening and closing sequence. If I am correct then this is one of several identical films shot in a series called “This week in Britain”. Identical because they were all made in several languages at the same time. And judging from the accent, this one was for Australia (ABC perhaps?). I certainly remember one of these visits to the lab of Eric Laithwaite where several women in different colourful outfits each did the same introduction, one after the other, but in their own language.

Civil Engineering Hydraulics Lab today

The film that we do have shows some interesting research being carried out around the college at that time. You’ll see the original Civil Engineering Hydraulics Lab; a brief example of Eric Laithwaite’s linear motor research; Alan Swanson demonstrating his artificial knee joint replacement;  the wind tunnel in Aeronautics and finally Chemical Engineering’s Plutonium work. Were you in the Mechanical Engineering workshop when they filmed in there, if so you might spot yourself? The introduction and closing was shot on level 3 of Civil Engineering. And if you remember the college from the 1960’s you will also spot the distinct style of the signs on the old walkway.

Finally, I love the phrase used at the end where Imperial College is called “Science City”, a term I have never heard! Maybe we should start to use it?

Colin Grimshaw June 2013

Professor Eric Laithwaite & the RTV31 Linear Motor Hover Train project in 1973

In recent months, whilst the blog has been on hold, I gather there has been great interest in the late Professor Eric Laithwaite’s research work. To see all the videos available that feature him, you may wish to go to the Imperial College YouTube Archive Playlist.

Professor Eric Laithwaite

Some while ago I came across footage of the experimental tracked hover train that was built at Erith in the UK. He had expanded his original designs of the Linear Motor, with support from a government grant of £5 million. The result was a prototype for the world’s first magnetically levitating train. The ‘Tracked Hovertrain’, as the prototype was called, was a high-speed, wheel-less vehicle which was propelled by the force of a magnetic field. Early trials of Laithwaite’s model looked promising with the prototype reaching speeds of up to 100mph, yet in 1973 the government cancelled the project, blaming high costs for little return.

Jim McKeown making a Linear Motor for Eric Laithwaite in December 1966

I know very little about the project, but after the Government brought it to a halt there were bitter exchanges between Eric Laithwaite and Government Ministers. Around 1974 Eric Laithwaite asked me to make a recording (in audio)  -in his own words- of what really happened; who said what and why. In front of me, that audio tape was put into an envelope, sealed and signed and was then to be held in his bank until his death. That tape DID surface again after his death, I personally unsealed it and transferred the contents into digital form! I did not keep a copy of this tape or digital transfer.

Prototype model train to run on the Linear Motor in lab in December 1966

Imperial College does not hold any RTV31 footage or photos related to that project. However the footage I did come across is held by the ITN Source Library in the UK. It’s really only available to buy but people can see a preview of the footage, which is good enough to see what the vehicle looked liked and how it operated. The video is located on the ITN website and can be seen via the link below.  I have also given the ITN information related to the clip at the bottom.

The two colour photos on this page were taken by me in December 1966 and are seen here for the first time. In was later in this month that Eric Laithwaite presented  the first televised Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, so the Linear Motor being made and the model train too, could have been for that event.

I was about to make this new entry live when, by chance, I came across this video on Youtube. It seems that the RTV31 shell still exists, although it’s painted very differently to the original footage you’ll see from ITN. It’s housed at Railworld, Oundle Road, Peterborough, PE2 9NR. The Youtube video is in French but it has Youtube ANNOTATIONS added in English. So ensure the Annotation options in the player window is set to ON (it should be a RED square when the video runs).



Test run of Hovertrain TX 7.2.1973 ENGLAND: Huntingdonshire: Erith: Demonstration of experimental hover train along concrete rail at speed. Michael McNair Wilson MP (Conservative: Walthamstow East) interview with Keith Hatfield (Reporter) about applications of technology for fast surface travel. Table-top model being demonstrated by Professor Eric Laithwaite (Imperial College). Hovertrain on track.

 See also: Engineering the Hovertrain

Colin Grimshaw November 2012

30 years ago this week…

Office of the Professional 1980
The Office of the Professional 1980

This is an additional and brief entry to mark the recording of a video I made 30 years ago this very week. The video was “The Office of the Professional” made with, and for, Professor Bob Spence from Electrical Engineering. You’ll find this video and others  in the section about Bob’s work, but I thought it worth repeating. I saw Bob recently and we both recalled the making of the video and how complicated it was. For example, the various TV screens seen running were in fact fed from different video players, so making these all run in sync was not easy. In fact, along with the recorder that was actually recording the video from the camera, we had 3 machines all needing to be run at the same time. This was early days for us and our colour camera (yes camera, as we had only one) which needed a lot of light to give good pictures.

The video was shot during this week in December 1980 and edited, after the Christmas holiday, in January 1981. Bill Buxton in his 2007 book Sketching User Experiences is quoted as saying, in reference to the video that this “is the first example of an envisionment video that I am aware of” and that it was “remarkable for its insights”. As I have already detailed in the previous full entry about Bob, the office desk that was constructed was faced in cardboard and green felt. One oversight was perhaps the telephones, we never attempted to change these to anything futuristic, so they look a bit odd now. The video also captures parts of the college long since changed and Alumni may remember: the main entrance, the steps and the original walkway going towards Electrical Engineering. These shots were taken on a dark and wet December afternoon back in 1980.

Colin Grimshaw December 2010

Nobel Laureates

One area where the archives are sadly lacking in both audio and videos recordings is on the subject of Imperial’s Nobel Laureates. And, as always, my appeal is to anyone who may have something to boost our collection, in either audio/video/film and so one. This current entry will focus on those Nobel Prize winners for whom we have recordings.

Professor Dennis Gabor
Professor Dennis Gabor

In 1948 Dennis Gabor (1900-1979) joined Imperial College as Reader in Electron Physics, he was appointed FRS in 1956 and Professor of Applied Electron Physics in 1958, retiring from the Chair to become Professor Emeritus and Research Fellow in 1967. His experiments on holography began in the 1940’s and on the flat television tube in the 1950’s. The model for his flat TV tube is held by the college archives. I met him only once when he was in our TV Studio to watch a film. On leaving, he spoke to me about the Sony colour TV we had. He said “Ah you have a Sony colour television” to which my reply was along the lines that the Japanese were very clever with their technology. He put his hand on my shoulder and told me that the principle of its workings (the TV’s single electron gun cathode ray tube) was something that he had proposed and suggested, but for which funding could not be found at that time and that the idea went to Japan and was used in those Sony televisions.

For the Invention of Holography, Gabor was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1971. A few months later on 22 February 1972 Gabor repeated his Nobel lecture, but this time for a special audience at Imperial. For us we are fortunate that a sound recording was made of the event. It’s not amazing quality, but I’ve done what I can with the sound to help improve it and also slowed down the tape that was clearly running too fast when I played it back. It’s introduced by the Rector at the time Lord Penney and there’s a vote of thanks by a departmental colleague, Professor Colin Cherry. That itself is interesting as the only sound recording we currently have of Cherry speaking at Imperial ++. Even more interesting are the references by both Penney and Gabor to power cuts. This was because of the 1972 Miner’s Strike and the so called “three day week”. Imperial, like all other places was subject to limited mains power during the day and at specified times the entire campus would be plunged into darkness….even Nobel Prize winners!

In 1981 I made a promotional video for the department of chemistry. A section within the video included one of the current students talking to Professor Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson (1921-1996) in the office. At the time, Wilkinson was head of department. It’s a pity that this is such a general video and that we never recorded anything more in-depth with him. I’ve been able to go back to the original ‘rushes’ (that is the original videotape shot at the time) of this interview to improve quality slightly, but it was made 30 years ago on our original low-band U-matic colour recording system (a single-striped faced, vidicon tube camera).

The only other recording of him was made in February 1992. this was for a video called “Snapshots”. The video brought together some of the current research being carried out at Imperial and showcased it for, primarily, an external audience. This sequence however is very short indeed and is the only record we have of Geoffrey Wilkinson in his research lad. And, for what ever reason, I don’t seem to have the original rushes any more so can’t see if there was anything else recorded at the time.

Finally we take a look at Professor Lord George Porter (1920-2002). He became chairman of the Centre for Photomolecular Sciences (and Professor of Photochemistry) at Imperial in 1987. He received a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1967. He was a former Director of the Royal Institution (1966-1985) and this was when I first met him. That was during the 1966 televising of the Christmas Lectures with Eric Laithwaite (see Laithwaite blog entry). This first recording is fun because we recorded it in his lab in the basement of the Beit Building. It’s full of lasers, for which I’m sure he should have been wearing safety glasses.

George Porter A 2/8/1995
George Porter’s 1995 Singapore lecture with Martin Sayers on cameras

Lastly, a unique recording of Lord Porter. This was not actually a planned videotaped lecture as such. In August 1995 he was asked to give the 10th Lee Kuan Yew lecture in Singapore. As he was unable to attend in person it was suggested he gave the talk via a videoconference link. We re-arranaged our TV studio to allow it to link into our videoconference system. You may spot him looking down at a monitor which was showing him the audience in Singapore and at one point talking to Martin Sayers behind the camera to confirm timings. He was very easy to work with and like Eric Laithewaite skilled in presenting on TV and film.

Prior to the day, he telephoned me several times to discuss details. He had a habit (so I was told) of sitting in his garden in summer months and making calls on a cordless phone. However, he was always at the limit of range of the base unit and was barely audible, so the call was full of hiss and crackle. It was only by chance that I happened to put a videotape into a recorder to make a record of the event and I’m glad I did. So here is the lecture, given live to Singapore, on a very hot London day on 2 August 1995. And because it was so hot, we left the usually noisy air-con unit switched on and you may hear that in the background.

Colin Grimshaw June 2010