Reminiscences of Kings College London 1960 - 1966

I began my university studies at King’s College London University on a Wednesday in October 1960, which was Erev Sukkot. My first degree, Bachelor of Science, was a Joint Honours Degree, in which I studied Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics in the first year and these first two mentioned subjects in the two subsequent years. In those days almost all the students entering that College had studied ay school for three years in the sixth form, whereas I had only studied for two years. I therefore realised that I had a lot of material to catch up on and would have to work extra hard and indeed I was right!

My first lecture was a Maths lecture and the lecturer began by reading out what the official syllabus contained. However in subsequent lectures throughout that year he added numerous additional topics during his lectures. Since the degree examinations were set by the University and not by this lecturer and were based entirely on the official syllabus, I ignored all these additional topics which he lectured on.

This was my technique for all the subjects for my degree. See what the official syllabus says, obtain past examination papers and learn accordingly! For the Chemistry final exam there was no “official” syllabus. However, after some inquiries, I discovered that there was a “guide” and I succeeded in getting a copy of it from one of the lecturers. In fact the difference between the “guide” and an “official syllabus” was semantic. The syllabus for the finals in Chemistry and Physics had been instituted five years earlier. I purchased bound copies of the past science examination papers for those years, extracted the papers for Chemistry and Physics and bound them in a loose leaf file. During the course of my studies, I would ask the lecturers what the examiners had required from the students when answering a particular question. To be successful in an examination is largely technique and to succeed one needs to work on this technique. Unfortunately many students don’t realise this!

As I already stated, my University studies began on Erev Sukkot and for the next two days, Yom Tov of Sukkot, I was absent from the University. This was likewise the following week for Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Whilst on this subject, this problem occurred every year during the winter Friday afternoons. During my first year, there was a Physics lecture on Friday afternoon followed by a Maths tutorial. In fact, as far as the tutorial was concerned, I gained. The sub-dean arranged for me to have a private tutorial on Friday morning in place of one in a large group in the afternoon.

During my second year there was a Friday afternoon lecture followed by a Physics practical. It was then suggested that if I could attend part of a lecture, I should sit near the door, so that I could leave quietly during the course of the lecture. As far as the practical was concerned, my partner had to work alone for most of the year. As I recollect, also during my third year, there was a lecture on Friday afternoon.

On the one hand, to minimise the amount of learning I missed on Friday afternoons and on the other hand, to ensure that I arrived home about a quarter of an hour before Shabbat, I studied the times of London Transport underground trains from Strand station to Edgware station. Should a train fail to arrive, I would still have arrived home on the following train about seven minutes before Shabbat and if necessary could have taken a taxi from Edgware station to my home. Fortunately there were no mishaps on this score during my three years as an undergraduate.

The study of Chemistry and Physics involved both lectures and practical work. In Physics we were told in our first practical class to choose a partner. My partner was a young man called Graham Bell and for the next three years we did our practicals together. I soon learned that Graham was a religious Christian and was planning to go into the Christian ministry following his receiving a B.Sc. He told me that to enter the Ministry he had to have a university degree.

We sometimes discussed religion during the course of our practical work. One conversation which often repeated itself during our first year, when the practical Physics class was on a Monday, was as follows. He would ask me when I had written up the account of our previous week’s experiment and I would answer “yesterday” – namely Sunday. He would immediately answer “on the Sabbath?!” As with many Christians he felt that Jews were too involved with pedantic details of religious observance. On one occasion I tried to prove that so was he. When I asked him whether he would write up his experiments on a Sunday he answered in the negative. However, he would write a letter to his family on a Sunday. I then asked what about a scientific article not connected with his studies and this got him trying to work out the answer.

King’s College also had its own Chapel and services were held twice a day. I asked Graham if attended but he said he didn’t since they did things not in accordance with his sect of Christianity – I believe he mentioned that in the King’s College Chapel they carried candles during the services.

There were also various lectures for the general student body on the Christian religion. On one occasion he was bursting to tell me something that the lecturer had said about Judaism. A Jew was travelling on a train on Shabbat and a person reminded him that one may not travel over a certain distance unless one is over water. The Jew replied that he was over water and brought out a hot-water bottle that he had been sitting on. Graham told me that the whole audience burst out laughing. Another person present at this lecture told me that the intention of the lecturer was not to laugh at Jewish observance but to try and illustrate that it was pedantic. [I should mention that the person who composed this story had never studied the laws of Techumim (Sabbath boundaries) – otherwise he would have understood by what is meant by “travelling over water.”]

Incidentally, several years ago, the College brought out a magazine for its Alumni called “In Touch” and invited them to send brief “class notes” on what they are now doing. I sent up my notes and soon after in April 2001 received a letter from Graham Bell saying that he thought that I must be his “Chemistry [actually it was Physics] practicals partner whilst he was in King’s College,” and “if so, this is to wish you well and hope that all goes well for you in Israel.” He added that he had visited Israel three times “and feel drawn back each time.” He had also started learning Biblical Hebrew and he wrote a few words in Hebrew in his letter.

I could see from the address on the notepaper “The Rectory” and also from the contents of his letter that he was working in the Church. He was even in the same village “Kettering” in Northants as when he was in King’s.

In my reply I wrote that “Forty years have now passed (a figure often found in the Bible) since we were partners in our Physics practicals. I think we spent more time on Religious discussions than on our Physics practicals.” I wished him well in his studies and thanked him “for writing to me and thus re-establishing contact.”

In addition to one’s degree, one could also get the diploma AKC [Associate of King’s College]. This one would accomplish by attending a lecture on some aspect of Christianity, including comparative religions, which was the first lecture on a Monday morning – nothing else was allowed to take place during that time in the College – and at the end of each year take an examination. The course on comparative religions included Judaism and after this lecture, many students in my group who were studying for this AKC asked me to clarify a number of points in this lecture.

The annual examinations for the AKC took place on a Saturday and since it was basically a Christian examination, the fact that the exam was on Shabbat, I would have thought, should have been no problem. This was until I saw the letters AKC after the name of a religious young Jewish man I knew in Edgware. He was from a family who had an obsession to have letters after their name! Studying at King’s College, he felt he must also have an AKC. When I questioned him about it, he told me that he thought that none of his acquaintances would know the meaning of these letters. I asked him about the examinations taking place on Shabbat and he told me that they let him take it on the Friday!

Apart from those taking the AKC, which was designed for the general student body, King’s College had a strong theological department. I remember seeing in the general library, non-Jewish students reading from the Hebrew text of the Tenach. This general library had a balcony and on it was to be found books on Philosophy and Chemistry, with the majority being on the former subject. It then crossed my mind that the number of Chemistry books was relatively small. Only when I became a postgraduate did I learn that this was not the main Chemistry library.

In addition to this College library, there was the University Library which was situated in Senate House and there, any student of the University could borrow a certain number of books. It also, amongst many other things, had the theses of London University postgraduates. Whilst I was in the University, I read over the D.Litt. thesis of Rabbi Dr. Isaac Herzog which was on the subject of Techelet. It was from the period of the First World War. Unlike today, in those days it did not have to be bound and the thesis came as a pile of clipped together papers. It was a most fascinating piece of work. I also looked at the Ph.D. thesis of my former school Principal, Rabbi Dr. Kopul Rosen on the “The Concept of Mitzvot in Rabbinic Literature.”

Now let us return to the laboratory work at the College. Unlike in Physics, in Chemistry everyone worked individually. At the beginning of each year, one had to deposit five pounds as a security for any breakages of the Chemistry apparatus. At the first practical, every student was given a certain amount of equipment – test tubes, beakers, filter paper and so on. The pupil would check it, sign for it and then be responsible for it.

Postgraduate students also had to deposit this sum annually – this was logical and fair. When I became a postgraduate student, there were also some theoretical chemists researching for their doctorates. Even though they used no chemical apparatus whatsoever, this deposit was demanded of them! The regulations made no distinction between the practical and theoretical chemists. They made a strong objection to this absurd interpretation of the regulations and they were successful in gaining an exemption.

My first year’s chemistry practicals began with a gravimetric exercise. I found it took about two full days to complete an exercise and I remember asking how in the examination at the end of the year, one would complete three or so exercises in one day? The answer I received was that on the day of the examination one would do more work than the whole year put together! When it came to the exam, I indeed found this to be true!

We had a whole variety of lecturers during our undergraduate days - some better, some worse. In Chemistry, they made a point of every student receiving some lectures from all the Professors, although this was not the case in Physics. I recollect one Chemistry lecturer using several opportunities to make caustic comments about the Chemistry work in University College, which was regarded as a “rival” college of London University. He also had some of us in laughter when talking about Fraulein Pockels.

University degree examinations were held at the end of the first and third years. Internal examinations in the middle of each year - these were called “mid-sessionals” - and also at the end of the second year. I would almost always get one of the highest marks in my group in these examinations. On one occasion I received 90% in organic chemistry, 92% in physical chemistry and just 29% in inorganic chemistry. Almost everyone got dismal marks in this last paper – the lecturer was a disaster! When the marks were posted on the notice board, another student who was looking at them at the same time as me commented, “I don’t know who this Simons is, but this 29% is obviously the fault of the lecturer!”

On 21 July 1961, which was a few months or so after taking my first year degree examinations, I received by post a printed list of those who had passed, with the “disclaimer,” “This list, published for the convenience of Candidates, is issued subject to its approval by the Senate.” Soon after, I went to Senate House to ask for a list which had been “approved by the Senate.” They offered me the same list and when I questioned it, they answered that when they send out the list you can be sure that it is the final list.

Before the third year finals, a timetable of examinations was distributed to the candidates. We immediately saw that on a Wednesday and Thursday in the middle of the timetable there were no exams. These two days were Shavuot and when I told the students that these two days were a Jewish Festival they were really happy at the timing of that Shavuot!

There were three theory papers in both the finals for Chemistry and Physics. There is an overlap in the subject matter between Chemistry and Physics and one of the questions in the Chemistry exam was almost identical to one in the Physics exam. The first two papers in Physics were exceptionally difficult and when I commented on this to the authorities, they told me that they had had many complaints about this. I also mentioned this to a former school colleague in a different College of London University and he replied that there also everyone concurred with this observation.

In addition to these theory papers, there were three full days of practical examinations - two in Chemistry and one in Physics. Due to limitations in the size of the laboratories, the Physics examination was divided into two sets, with each set taking the examination in a different week. The division was made on an alphabetical basis. Some of the students were thus fortunate to have their Chemistry and Physics practical examinations in a different week. I was not amongst these fortunate ones! I therefore had three days without break of practical exams. It was almost torture.

A few weeks later I was on holiday with my parents in Bournemouth. Whilst there, I received a message to contact the Professor of Physics. When I contacted him, he told me he was interested in me studying for a doctorate in his department. However I had already accepted an offer to do this study in the Chemistry department. During the course of this telephone conversation, I asked him whether he had the degree results and he told me that I had gained a first class honours degree.

We were informed that on Friday 26 July, at 1.00 p.m., an unofficial list of degree results would be placed on the notice board of Senate House. I arrived there a little before one o’clock to find a number of fellow students there and they told me that the lists were already up. Nearly a month later, on 20 August, we received by post the official results, stating that “The date of the award of the Degree to the above Candidates is 1 August 1963.” These results confirmed my first class honours degree and I could now start on my doctorate studies.

“The Times Educational Supplement” would each year under the heading “University News: First in the Field” publish the list of those candidates who had received a First Class Honours Degree. It appeared in the edition of 30 August, and my name was duly included.

Every year London University arranges ceremonies to present its graduates to the Chancellor of the University. These ceremonies were held in the Royal Albert Hall. Those gaining the Bachelor Degree bow to the Chancellor, those gaining Master or Doctor of Philosophy Degrees, get a handshake and those gaining a Higher Doctorate kneel and have an academic hood placed over their shoulders. At the time of my graduation, the Chancellor was the Queen Mother. However she was indisposed and the Vice-Chancellor took her place.

At this ceremony, almost all the graduates appear in academic gowns and hoods – they will not allow the graduates to wear mortar boards! One gown that stuck out particularly was the gown for the Bachelor of Music degree, which is of a light blue colour, instead of the black for the other faculties. The academic dress can be hired from the robe makers for the ceremony and for an additional sum can be retained for a further week, to enable the graduates to be photographed wearing it. There is many a drawing room where such photographs are proudly displayed by the parents of the graduates!

The ceremony begins with the entry of the dignitaries, the Chancellor makes a short speech, and the graduates are then presented – first the Bachelors, then the Masters, then the Ph.Ds and finally the Higher Doctorates. Since thousands of graduates are presented within a short space of time, great planning and precision must go into ensuring that the right graduate appears at the time when his name is called out. One small mistake can throw the whole thing into chaos!

In London University every graduate can become a member of Convocation. In my day, one paid just one pound for life to become a member. The privileges of a member included a more attractive academic dress, the use of the Senate House Library, the right to elect some of the members of the Senate and to also receive detailed literature and order papers regarding Convocation meetings. Several years later this last mentioned privilege was rescinded and to receive such literature one had to pay a certain sum. In fact I could not join Convocation when I became a graduate – in those days there was a limitation that one had to be over 21 years old. I was still 20 years old when I graduated. However on the day I became 21, I sent off my application form together with my pound for life membership.

I recently learned from the Internet that in September 2003, Convocation was abolished. What is the situation therefore regarding academic dress? I don’t know. What I do know is that according to today’s University Statutes, the Council of the University must now appoint at least 13 graduates of the University as members of this Council.

Whilst on the question of “abolishment,” I also just learned from the Internet that the King’s College management was in 2003 seriously thinking of closing the Chemistry Department. The reasons were that it did not have the highest ratings and was losing well over a million pounds a year. In a notice “Your Action is Required Now!” it stated that those who were concerned about this, such as past students and staff, should send their “comments, complaints and suggestions” to the Acting Principal of the College. However, it still seems to be open today (July 2005).

A university student should not limit all his time to his degree, although this is of course his major reason for going to University. I believe that it was during my second year as an undergraduate, that the British Branch of the “Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists” (AOJS) was established. Anyone then joining within thirty days was classed as a “founder member” and I became such a member. Since at the time I was an undergraduate, I could only become a “student member” - the difference being that I could not vote at the Business Meeting held on the day of the Annual Conference.

Every year in the spring there was this AOJS Annual Conference. The first session which was open to the general public took place after Shabbat, and subsequent sessions held on Sunday were limited to members. After all these years, lectures which I still remember was one by Professor Cyril Domb on “Systematic Methods of Torah Study” and he illustrated this with a concrete model of the alter in the Mishcan. There were also lectures on what is Shaatnez, and on abortion.

The public lecture at the Second Annual Conference was packed to capacity and also caused quite a stir! I recollect having to wait a long time for a bus to get there and by the time I arrived every seat was taken. I was squashed with many others in one of the spaces between the blocks of seats. The subject of the lecture was the prohibition to study secular material except for five limited reasons. Because of the stifling atmosphere of the very crowded hall, there was no question time after the lecture but at a later date, a meeting was held for questions on this subject. The audience, who were Orthodox Jews who occupied themselves with secular studies, were critical of the speaker. One leading questioner stated that although the sources stated by the speaker were genuine, they were open to different interpretations.

Each of these Annual Conferences was usually followed by a dinner at a Jewish restaurant with a guest speaker. On one occasion, it was the Chief Rabbi, Israel Brodie.

The activities of the AOJS were not limited to its annual conferences. I recollect participating in projects to study the problem of thermostats on Shabbat and lessons on “sofrei stam.” Unfortunately these courses fizzled out after a few sessions. Another activity was lectures by Dayanim of the London Beth Din. Of those I remember, one was on sex changes and another on an aspect of Kashrut.

In the autumn of 1963 I began my research for a doctorate in Physical Chemistry. My supervisor, Victor Gold, was a Reader in Chemistry and about a year after I began my research he was appointed a Professor. I knew he originated from a German speaking country and I strongly suspected he was Jewish. At a later date, Professor Domb confirmed this fact to me saying that he knew his cousin Tommy Gold. [From an interview given by Professor Domb, which I found on the Internet, I read that he [Professor Domb] was together with Tommy Gold at Cambridge University, who had arrived from Vienna.] About fifteen years after Victor Gold had died, I discovered this fact by chance on the Internet. He was only in his early 60s at the time of his death. I also learned that he was living in Austria at the time of the Anschluss and was sent to England. I often wondered whether he was part of the kinder transports of Rabbi Dr. Schonfeld. However, when I recently studied the lists of names, I didn’t find his name on any of the lists.

When I began my research, Gold said that I would be using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) in the course of my research. At that time I knew nothing about NMR and had to do extensive reading on the whole subject.

When I did my research, it was relatively speaking the early days of NMR. The NMR spectrometer which I used had been built a few years earlier in the department. As far as I can remember, it was built, at least partially, from used and spare parts!! It was a 28MHz machine and it utilised a Mullard permanent magnet. A part of the machine did not even have a cover over it! Even for those days, it was a primitive machine!

The extensive rebuilding and refurbishing programme of King’s College was still a thing of the future. The NMR machine was therefore located in a windowless “cubbyhole” in the basement of the building. I didn’t tell my parents under what conditions I was working. It was only after a cousin visited me and happened to mention to them the conditions of this room that they knew about it. My mother was horrified! An “advantage” of this room was that it had a sink in the corner and I utilised it for “netillat yadayim” before eating my daily sandwiches.

A university and especially a research establishment require excellent library facilities. In addition to the general library, which as we have already seen had a small Chemistry library, there was the main Chemistry library in the department. The majority of the books there were Chemistry Journals and Abstracts. As soon as current journals arrived they were placed in the library and at the end of each year were sent for binding. Although most of the journals were in English, there were some in German and Russian. There were English translations for some of the Russian journals. Because of a lack of space, there were a few journals placed in the staff tea room. The College could obviously not subscribe to every Chemistry journal. Fortunately, fairly close to the College was the Patent Office and there one could find additional journals. If one still needed something not to be found there, there was a library in the north of the country where one could borrow journals by post.

When doing the NMR measurements, it was necessary to spin the samples. To do this successfully, the sample tubes had to be made to rigid specifications. Since this was a home-made machine, one presumably could not buy the appropriate size sample tubes and they had to be likewise home-made. Large quantities of soda-glass tubing of approximately the correct diameter were bought wholesale. From this, one had to find glass of exactly the right diameter. Following some preliminary arrangements, these tubes were then annealed in an annealing oven which straightened the tubing. This oven was situated in another windowless basement of the building which was shared with an X-ray machine and some other machine (I cannot remember details) which was in the course of being built by another student.

I recollect that the student using the X-ray machine sometimes had to take readings continuously for 24 hours and therefore had to spend the night in this basement. Fortunately this was not necessary with NMR and I was able to return home each evening at a reasonable hour. I was therefore once described as a “gentleman of leisure.”

Those involved with radio-active materials (and possibly X-rays) wore a special badge which measured the amount of radio-active material they were in contact with and there was a certain person whose responsibility was to monitor those using these materials.

On one occasion when I washed my hands at the end of a day using soap by the side of a sink, I was told that I had used “radio-active soap” and they sent me to have my hands monitored by the person responsible for monitoring radio-activity. I went to him and he ran a machine all over my hands and said to my relief I was clear. He then added that I was victim of a practical joke – the soap was not radio-active! He said that he did not want to be a spoil-sport but due to the seriousness of radio-activity, he felt he ought to tell be that the whole thing was a hoax!

On the question of the safety of the researchers, I was not too satisfied. When I began my research, I asked for a face shield, to protect my face from splashes of dangerous chemicals. I kept prodding the head technician and he kept promising to buy some plastic and cut it into suitable sizes for the researchers. (Why couldn’t he buy ready made shields?!) Whilst waiting for him to make these shields – and a long time was elapsing! – someone had an accident in the laboratory. His sleeve caught fire. He managed to put it out and fortunately only had very slight burns, although he did go to hospital for treatment. Immediately the official in charge of safety came to the laboratory to investigate what happened. I utilised the opportunity to say that for a long time I was demanding face shields. Hey presto, within a few days factory manufactured face shields arrived!

In the laboratory where I worked there were about six students. Each had his own bench and table for writing. Any equipment used had to be taken from the chemistry stores and signed for. As with my undergraduate days, we had to give a deposit against any breakages of the equipment. Some of the students in this laboratory were from England. There was also a married post-doctoral student from Australia and a Moslem student from, I think, Jordan, but we didn’t discuss politics. Whilst I was there, a married woman student from Israel joined the laboratory. It was just before a Festival and I heard her telling Gold that she would not be there on Yom-Tov. I therefore thought she was religious but sadly she wasn’t. She even wanted civil marriages in Israel and was concerned after an Israeli election of religious party demands. However, she obviously regarded Yom-Tov as a holiday and not a day for Chemistry research. Another Moslem student, who was from Pakistan – I think his bench was in a different laboratory in the department – reported that they had in his country built a beautiful new building for (or to include) Chemistry, but the architect forgot to include toilets!

Whilst I was a postgraduate, the student on the next laboratory bench to mine got married. I bought him a present and after the wedding he gave me in a small box a piece of wedding cake. Needless to say when I got it home, I had to throw it straight into the dustbin.

Postgraduate students could earn some money each month as a demonstrator, by assisting for about half a day each week, the staff member in charge of the laboratory. I was such a demonstrator in each of my three years as a postgraduate student. We were allowed to take off half an hour in the middle of the afternoon as a tea break.

One of the days when I was such a demonstrator happened to be Purim and because of this, I estimated that I would arrive home about half an hour too late for my Purim Seudah. I therefore made a condition that should this arise, my midday sandwiches would be my Purim Seudah! However, fortunately this turned out to be unnecessary. The staff member in charge was absent. I therefore was able to “come to an arrangement” with the laboratory technician to forgo my tea break and leave half an hour early. This was my Purim miracle that year!

Since as a postgraduate, one was not tied to a lecture and practical class timetable, it was much easier with regard to winter Friday afternoons and Festivals. For Friday afternoons, I would aim to arrive home at least an hour before Shabbat. One could thus do so with an easier mind and without worries of delays. Pesach, whilst I was a postgraduate, occurred at the same time as Easter and there was no problem in taking the whole Festival off. I once asked Professor Domb whether, since some of the chemicals I was using were likely to be Chametz, I had to sell them. He replied in the negative saying that they did not belong to me. If I would start taking the chemicals home, the University would soon be after me!

Most of the Festivals occur together in Tishri. Ideally I would have also liked to have taken off Chol Hamoed Sukkot but after all the days of Yom-Tov in Tishri, it would have been very difficult. I therefore went in, made a point of being seen, and spent the day just reading in the Chemistry library. As far as a Sukkah was concerned, I learned that the Sukkah of the Machzikei Hadas Shul in the East End of London was not too far away from King’s College. The Machzikei Hadas Shul was in its last years in the 1960s. Soon after, it closed and the building became a Mosque. In its heyday it had Minyan after Minyan throughout the day and during the First World War, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook was its Rav. However the migration of the Jewish community out of the East of London took its toll on this Shul and I think that by the 1960s there were just a few daily Minyanim there. However they put up a Sukkah for the general public and one would meet all sorts of people there on Chol Hamoed Sukkot.

Another religious requirement, especially in the winter months, is a place to daven Minchah. Whilst I was a postgraduate, I one day noticed on the “Jewish Society” notice board that from that very day a Minchah Minyan would take place in the London School of Economics (LSE), which was just across the road. The initial reason for its establishment was that Professor Domb’s father had passed away and he needed a Minyan to say Kaddish. From that day onwards a Minchah Minyan took place from Monday to Thursday each week during term time. The procedure in LSE for the use of a room was to enter the booking in a diary in the office. For the purpose of Minchah, the booking was made in the name of the Jewish Society. In order to ensure that we were the first to make a booking for the same room each day, I would go into LSE during the University holiday time and book the room for every day during the subsequent term.

In fact, we decided to make it more than just a Minchah Minyan. After Minchah each day we would have a Shiur. The book “Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata” had just been published and we decided that we would learn from that book. At the same time we would eat our sandwiches. Near to this room was a room with water where we could do netillat yadayim. One day a student saw me going into this room holding a cup (for netillat yadayim). “That’s not drinking water,” he informed me! Each year I would send a letter to the “Jewish Review” – the British Mizrachi paper - letting students and indeed the general public know about these facilities.

On Fridays we did not need a Minchah Minyan. But all the same we had a Shiur. At one stage Rabbi Hool of Kingsbury Synagogue came along and gave a Shiur from the Aruch Hashulchan, and as far as I remember we studied the laws of Chol Hamoed.

Obviously in the interval between University terms, there was no Minchah Minyan in LSE. However Professor Domb told me that there was a Minyan in Freshwater’s offices which was about a ten minute walk from King’s. Before Minchah there was a Mishnah Berurah shiur there in Yiddish and they were then learning the laws of Shabbat. Incidentally, I see from the Minchah minyanim listed in the “Jewish Tribune” that this Minyan still takes place.

Another Shiur I regularly attended at this period was one given by Rabbi Ellinson, who was then the Rabbi of the Yeshurun Synagogue in Edgware. His Shiur was for young people and was on the subject of Kashrut and was on a fairly high level. His teaching was superb and I made detailed notes which I still have.

Let me now return to the NMR spectrometer. As was to be expected, it often went wrong, especially during the latter part of my research, and since it was not a brand model, it was not easy to find a technician to repair it. On one occasion, we persuaded the person who originally built it to come to the College and repair it. On a later occasion, I was showing a technician what had gone wrong. I had not completely disconnected the spectrometer from the electricity and I still remember the electric shock I received on touching a particular part of the machine!

Almost all my research was a study of liquid mixtures using NMR. These studies included the hydrogen bonding between carboxylic acids and pyridine bases, the relative basicities of alcohols and water, the binary systems of ethanol and water and the fractionation of hydrogen isotopes between alkoxonium ions and alcohols.

The last named subject involved the use of heavy water. If I recollect correctly, it came from a Scandinavian country. What I do remember was that it was packed in different layers of boxes within a number of wrappings. When one finally reached the final product, it was in a small bottle!

A subsidiary project which I worked on during my research was the mechanism of the hydrolysis of aspirin. When I mentioned to the laymen that I was researching with aspirin, they naturally asked me about its medical properties.

Today, it is hard to find anybody without a pocket calculator. In those days they were rather larger and usually manual. I, at first had one on my desk, the size of almost half the desk. To operate it one had to turn a handle clockwise or anti-clockwise in order to do any calculation! I used the expression “at first” because one day, a piece of cotton-wool got caught in one of the numerous cogwheels incorporated in the mechanism. That caused the demise of the “museum-piece” calculator!

There were also no home computers in those days. To the best of my knowledge, London University had one computer and even that was shared with some industrial firm. I understand the computer was an enormous thing which took up a room. To put in data, one had to type it and this in turn punched out holes on a paper tape.

In the summer of 1966, the department held a seminar at the College. I was one of the speakers who delivered a paper. The subject was the “Relative Basicities of Alcohol and Water” and I also managed to introduce some humour into my presentation.

Every year a photograph was taken of the members of the Chemistry Department. Included in this photograph were the academic and technical staff and the postgraduate students. One year an outside person who happened to be in the vicinity just stood amongst those being photographed and thus appeared in the departmental photograph!

For the three years I was a postgraduate student I appear in this photograph. All these photographs were affixed to the walls of one of the corridors in the Department. They have now been placed on the King’s College Chemistry Department’s website and I have run off copies of the photographs on which I appear.

One can see from all these photographs the mode of dress in the 1960s. Almost all those in the photographs are wearing ties and jackets. In contrast, if one were to look at a photograph taken of a similar group today, one would have to search for the ties and jackets.

After about two and a half years of practical work, the time arrived for me to write up my thesis. Theses in Chemistry were (at least at that time) divided into three sections. The first was the “Introduction” and gave a historical survey of what had been done in the field under study in the past. This was followed by the “Experimental” which described and gave the results of the experiments performed by the researcher. The final section was the “Summary and Discussion” of the research. All this was followed by a list of the references brought throughout the thesis.

Today, with the use of home computers, most students could type out their own thesis. A mistake is very easily corrected. However in those days, it had to be typed on a typewriter. Any bad error would require retyping of the entire page and therefore it was strongly advisable to employ a professional typist. At the time, I looked out for advertisements for typists and found they wanted a lot of money per page. However I then saw advertised a typing agency which was much cheaper. I contacted them and then took in my handwritten manuscript, (I think the agency was in Kensington), and arranged for them to type it with three carbon copies.

A few weeks later I was told that the typist had finished and I went to collect the material. I looked over the work and found it had been done to my satisfaction and passed on my praises to the head of the agency. I had to add in by hand some Greek letters, arrows and chemical equations.

The thesis also contained a number of graphs. I had a friend who was an architect and he drew them for me.

At my College there was a machine for stamping numbers on a page, which would automatically change after a designated number of copies. At the time I had four copies of my thesis, and I thus accordingly designated this machine.

I worked out that I required six copies of my thesis. The University required two copies to retain, my supervisor wanted two, my parents wanted a copy and I myself wanted one. I therefore photocopied two additional copies at my College. Since I had made a large number of photocopies, I put in a request for a discount in the price. They considered it but in the end gave me no discount whatsoever.

Theses had to be bound to a rigid specification - a certain shade of blue with the degree, the year and the initials and the surname of the author on the spine of the book. The University gave the name of a binder who honoured these specifications. I accordingly took him the material for binding.

I completed the application forms for the Ph.D. degree, got the appropriate signatures and submitted them with three copies of my thesis. (The University returns one of these copies to the candidate after the oral examination.)

The procedure is that the thesis is examined by two examiners – one of them is the candidate’s supervisor and the other an external examiner. The candidate is then invited to an oral examination. Obviously, it is advisable to prepare for such an examination and I spent the time between submitting the thesis and the examination in such preparation.

I was concerned that the oral examination would take place during the “Nine Days” and I mentioned this to Professor Domb. He answered that I was submitting my thesis at that time since I was planning to go to live in Israel. In the end the oral was fixed for Rosh Chodesh Av at twelve o’clock and took place at University College. That morning I requested an Aliyah in Shul and I received opening of the Ark.

Since I did not know the layout of University College, I went there early, looked for the room where the oral would take place and then took a stroll around until just before twelve o’clock. At the dot of twelve, I knocked on the door, entered and saw Gold and the external examiner sitting there ready to begin. Almost all the questions were asked by the external examiner. He built a number of traps in his questions but I don’t think I fell into them. The oral went on for almost an hour and at the end he asked me what my future plans were. I answered that I was planning to go to Israel to take up a lectureship in Chemistry, to which Gold interjected not before I give him two copies of my thesis and clear up my desk.

A day or so later, I telephoned Gold and asked him what the result was and he answered “favourable.” When a person living in my locality asked me whether I thought that I had passed, I answered that I was not pessimistic. About a week and a half later I telephoned the University to ask whether they had the results and I was told that they had just sent them off to me. The letter stated, “I have the honour to inform you that the Vice-Chancellor, acting on behalf of the Senate, has conferred upon you the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy…” It added “that the Examiners have reported that your thesis is suitable for publication in an abridged form.” The date of the award of the degree was 27 July 1966 – one day after Tisha B’Av.

I decided that I was going to purchase a Ph.D. academic robe and for this I went to one of the official University robe-makers. I had discovered that these robes could contain Shaatnez and I asked them to make it without linen. They were already aware of this problem and they made the necessary changes in making my robe. Since I was a member of Convocation, my robe was of a scarlet colour with a yellow edging for the faculty of science. The hood was of a similar colour and the hat was black with a scarlet tassel and was soft and round.

The degree presentation ceremony only took place in the following spring. However by that time I was already in Israel and therefore to my great disappointment could not attend.

After I arrived in Israel, I was in contact with Professor Gold and we were planning the publication in Chemistry journals of my research. However during the course of these preparations, I went to join the Hebron Settlers and the publication thus never came to fruition. Those interested in the results of my research will thus have to refer to copies of my thesis to be found in the Senate House Library and the King’s College Library. To the best of my recollection, I gave permission that after a certain number of years, anyone could reproduce it without having to ask me.

At the time I wrote a strictly humorous paper entitled “A New Theory for NMR.” I still have a copy of this “paper” and since it cannot be found anywhere else, I am reproducing it as an Appendix to this chapter.

In the 1970s I was awarded the degree of Bachelor of Philosophy in Educational Technology by the British Open University. Details of this may be found in my book “My Fight for Yiddishkeit” under the chapter headed “Another Degree.”


Written about 1967 – in a strictly humorous vein!


by C. Simons

Most leading modern NMR experts (1) now consider that the previously suggested theory to explain NMR signals is incorrect. In this paper, a new theory based on the author’s experimental observations is put forward.


NMR signals arise from the presence of the bacteria “golliwog” in the samples under observation. The application of a potential difference of one million volts across the samples will kill off these bacteria leading to cessation of the observed signals.(2) In the absence of a magnetic field, the golliwogs will move in a random direction. However, the application of a magnetic field will cause the golliwogs to move in a more ordered motion resembling that of a table-tennis ball.(3)

It is thus obvious that this ordered motion will give rise to NMR signals.

The positions of these signals can easily be calculated using the results of Fudge.(4) These calculations show that

P = 1/ k v 8.342 (equation 1)

Where P is the position of the signals measured from an unspecified reference, v the root-mean-square velocity of the golliwogs and k the Purim constant.(5)

It is of no importance whatsoever whether measurements are made from an internal or external reference, since in the opinion of the author, bulk susceptibility corrections are a lot of nonsense.

The previously explained NMR properties can be re-explained in terms of this theory as follows:

Chemical Shift

Different chemical groups exert the property of “bacteriological attraction” (6) to different extents. These groups will hence retard the golliwogs to different extents, thus slowing down their velocity. Hence from equation 1, the signal positions of different chemical groups will be different.

Spin-Spin Coupling

This phenomenon cannot be explained on this theory. Hence it doesn’t really exist. It is in fact due to the NMR spectrometer not behaving properly. (7)


The golliwogs which are in a continuous precession sometimes get tired. They hence take time off to relax.(8)


It can thus be seen that this theory has (in the opinion of the author) explained the existence of the NMR phenomena most conclusively.


The author expresses his deep gratitude to the Krazy Foundation who replaced the twelve NMR spectrometers wrecked by him in the course of his experiments

(1) Simons C., Simons C. and Simons C., Zeitschrift fur Trasche und Rubbische 1966 92 416.

(2) Professor Nosey who questioned the validity of this observation attempted a verification. A slight mishap abruptly terminated this verification. R.I.P.

(3) Ping Pong. Chinese Journal of Table-Tennis 1936 42 11942 (with abstract in Swahili)

(4) Fudge. “Factors in Chemistry” Published by The Cooking Co., Inc. 1942.

(5) This constant is named after Professor Purim, who was Professor of Criminal Chemistry at the Shoeshine University, Persia.

(6) The author regrets that he has mislaid the reference concerning this property, but he assures the readers that it really does exist.

(7) Based on the maxim: "Electronic apparatus always goes wrong."

(8) c.f. "The Case for Tea-Breaks," published by Schmaltz-Herring Picklers Union, 1958.

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