Reporter 443, 22 November 1999


Parkers told to keep off the grass

Sophie Foot
Leeds University Union

Stavros Iezekiel may think that he has come up with a partial solution to the inadequate campus car parking in suggesting a park and ride system using land at Weetwood and Bodington (Reporter 442).

Exactly where would he suggest that our sportsmen and women go to participate in University sport? Maybe if he is not planning to build over our sports grounds and just wants to use the car parks, any monies generated would be greatly appreciated for adding to our swimming pool fund.

More memories of Professor Cabrera

Professor Ian Smalley
Nottingham Trent University

I read the obituary for Professor Cabrera in issue 439; I would like to add a few personal reminiscences.

I joined the Civil Engineering Department in 1968 and started several research projects with Joe(he was always Joe to us-Joseph[in 439] looked a bit strange; I thought his first name was really Jose). We worked on soil structures and made some early scanning electron microscope studies on the structures in compacted kaolinites. We used the SEM in Textile Studies(operated by Dr Sikorski who cooperated splendidly) and we got some good results. I think that our pictures published in Nature in 1969 were the first clear clay soil SEM pictures published in the mainline scientific press. We tackled loess soils and the first loess SEMs appeared in the Geological Society of America Bulletin in 1970. We also developed a new theory to explain the strange properties of certain post-glacial soils found in Canada and Scandinavia(the so-called'quickclays'). Our revolutionary theory proposed that these were not really clays at all(in the true mineralogical sense). Im pleased to say that the Cabrera-Smalley quickclay theory is now widely accepted. We worked hard to introduce the idea of thermogravimetric analysis into soil mechanics. Prof Neville allowed us to buy two TR02 thermobalances and we launched into a complex research programme looking at African and South American red soils. Several useful PhDs were generated by these balances. The South American connection was strengthened when Joe and family moved to Brazil on behalf of the British Council. This was part of an aid package to the north-east part of Brazil and Joe worked at Campina Grande improving highway engineering education. The Cabreras went to Brazil in May 1974 for a two year posting and I think that this was a very critical time in Joes academic development. The Brazilian operation was a great success, we even managed to shuttle a few of the PhD students back and forth and it was particularly useful for the African students to see the great red soils of Brazil. Lots of laterite came back to be tested on our thermobalances(laterite is an ideal material for thermogravimetric investigation). When I moved to New Zealand in 1978 Joe moved the thermobalances down to the basement(close to where Prof.Evans notorious X-ray machine was placed). They were destroyed in a very eccentric way. When the famous explosion occurred in the Civil Engineering Department the fire services poured an amazing amount of water into the building and totally filled the basement labs- ruining all the thermal analysis equipment which Joe had so painstakingly installed.

An even more significant event in Joes academic career occurred in 1978. When Prof.Neville left to be a Vice-Chancellor in Scotland there was a widespread reorganization in the Civil Engineering Department. The new look really suited Joe and he flourished with renewed vigour. I think that the South American adventure had produced many new ideas and suddenly he had a good environment to develop them in and his productivity surged. Most of his PhD students and his prodigious fund raising date from the post-1978 period; but I was in New Zealand then and missed all the excitement.

Smoking souls lost in translation?

John Lydon
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

The exhibition of Japanese woodcuts in the Parkinson Gallery is beautiful and fascinating. Most of the prints are completely representational and relatively easy to appreciate, especially after reading the captions, but there is one, by Hiroshige showing Fox fires at the changing tree which is bafflingly allegorical.

Unfortunately the caption given is incomplete and not much help. Presumably a more complete version would read:
In Oji there is an old legend. Every New Year's Eve at the stroke of midnight the souls of our departed fathers, who still suffer from nicotine addiction in the other world, are allowed one hour of respite from their torment.
They possess the bodies of the little foxes of the wilderness and congregate under the hackberry trees to light up their Woodbines. If you are in the marshes at the right time, you can see the flickering lights and hear ghostly coughing. We call the lights Foxfires and sometimes they are bright enough to be confused with low-flying Soviet military aircraft.
The regions in the marshes where this occurs are traditionally marked in brown mottled patterns on our old maps.

What is it all about? Will-o-the-wisp, phosphorescent fungi, fireflies or glow-worms possibly - but the print implies vulpine pyrotechnic halitosis.

Since Samson's incendiary brush with his non-art-loving neighbours, the fox seems to be paw in glove with fire. Strangely, according to the Oxford English Dictionary there was even a fifteenth-century English term, foxfire ("now only in US") referring to the phosphorescence of rotting wood. There's a thesis in it somewhere.

Boyle cancellation brings concerns

Major-General Henry Woods

As a member of the Court, a former member of the Council, a former Chairman of the RSA (Yorkshire Region), and one who was numbered among Edward Boyle's many, many friends, I am deeply concerned to read in Reporter 441 that the Edward Boyle memorial lecture has been called off.

It has been, and I hope will continue to be, a very important and distinguished event in the University calendar. It is given in both London (at the RSA's House) and Leeds, and thus emphasises the intellectual standing of the University in our nation.

Edward was a most distinguished faithful and able Vice-Chancellor, and I urge that every effort is made at the highest level of the University to ensure that there is a memorial lecture in 2000, given in both London and Leeds by someone who will fulfil the commitment.

Leeds set a tough university challenge

Mark Nelson
Philosophy

Just wondering: Does the University of Leeds ever field a team in television's University Challenge? I don't follow the show closely, but, since arriving here in 1994, I haven't noticed a Leeds team in the competition. Perhaps we are missing a chance to fly our flag in the national media?

The University did indeed enter a team in the present series. Tune in on December 6 to see how they get on.

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