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Journal of the month...

Materials Science and Technology

Celebrating 25 years of publishing in 2010

To find out more about Materials Science and Technology, take out a subscription, or submit a paper, please visit the journal web-page here.                                       

Meet the Editor...

John Knott, Editor of Materials
Science and Technology.

'Welcome to all readers! My name is John Knott, and I have been Editor of MST since the beginning of 2003. The aim of this article is to tell you something about myself and of the connections that I have had with the Institute’s journals and other publications over what is now a period of more than fifty years, during which time what were more nationally focused, ‘institutional’ publications have evolved into the international journals you see today. I was an undergraduate at the University of Sheffield from 1956 to 1959, and then went to Cambridge University to carry out PhD research on the notch-brittleness of mild steel, under the supervision of Sir Alan Cottrell.

At this time, there were three separate Institutions: The Iron and Steel Institute (ISI: self-explanatory), The Institute of Metals (IOM: non-ferrous) and the Institution of Metallurgists (professional). I started subscribing to the Journal of the Institute of Metals (JIM) in 1957, as a second-year undergraduate, and to the Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute (JISI) a year later. I left Cambridge in 1962, to join the Central Electricity Research Laboratories (CERL) at Leatherhead as a Research Officer, and a year or two afterwards, I became an Associate Member of the Institution of Metallurgists (AIM) and started receiving its journal: The Metallurgist. During this period, I had some half-dozen papers published in JISI, on various aspects of brittle fracture in steel, and early research on fracture mechanics.

In 1967, I returned to Cambridge to take up a Lectureship, and, later that year, I was elected as Goldsmiths’ Fellow in Metallurgy at Churchill College. I was fortunate to attract a number of extremely talented research students to carry out research under my supervision in the general area of micro-mechanical aspects of fracture and sub-critical crack growth in engineering alloys. Many of these have gone on to achieve Academic Chairs in the UK and elsewhere; FREng or equivalent membership of National Academies; leading positions in research laboratories and industry.

The ‘buzz’ that we enjoyed during the 1970s and 1980s was extremely stimulating and a great amount of excellent, and, I like to think, industrially relevant, research was carried out.

In 1973, Richard Dolby and I won the Pfeil prize for a paper on the fracture of heat-affected-zone microstructures in a weldable, structural steel (published in JISI). The same year, ISI and IOM merged, to form The Metals Society. I joined the Science of Metals and Alloys sub-Group (under the Chairmanship of Professor Ray Smallman) and also became a member of the Editorial Panel for Metal Science (MS), which had started life as Metal Science Journal in 1967. My research group published strongly in MS, and I have listed some of these papers in my January 2010 Editorial for MST.

Although my book Fundamentals of fracture mechanics was published by Butterworths in 1973, a follow-up, co-authored with David Elliott, Worked examples in fracture mechanics, was published by the Institution of Metallurgists in 1979 (revised with Paul Withey and republished in 1993 as Fracture mechanics – worked examples. In 1978, I was awarded the Rosenhain Medal, and in 1981, I was made Reader in Mechanical Metallurgy. At the time, such appointments in Cambridge were really rather special, and I felt this to be, not only a personal honour, but also a reflection of the internationally recognised, research my group had produced over the preceding decade.

I wish to say something also about Churchill College. Founded as the national memorial to Sir Winston, it has a defined bias towards science and engineering (a ’70:30’ ratio) and has a scheme to attract eminent scientists and engineers from abroad to come for a year as an overseas fellow. Names from the USA, for example, include Bruce Chalmers, Merton Flemings, Charles McMahon, and Jim Rice. Jim’s year of residence, at a time when Rob Ritchie was a PhD student in Churchill, led a year or so later to the publication (in Journal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids, I fear) of the Ritchie/Knott/Rice (RKR) model for fracture toughness.

The opportunities to discuss issues, not only with Cambridge fellows in other science/engineering disciplines, but also with overseas fellows, made the College a very special place. It was also an ambience in which students and fellows mixed freely. If my count is correct, 21 of my 52 Cambridge PhD students were members of Churchill. In 1988, I was appointed as Vice-Master. The Cambridge teaching and (college-based) supervision system has much to offer.  

I lectured on a wide variety of topics, including electron microscopy, the fabrication of semiconductor devices, and thermodynamics, in addition to my own field of mechanical properties and fracture. I also had to supervise topics on which I did not lecture: topics such as crystallography, ceramics, and polymers. This breadth is as good for the continuing education of teaching staff as it is for undergraduates.

I had become a Fellow of the Institute of Materials (now FIMMM) in 1974 and of the Welding Institute in 1985, but the end of my time at Cambridge was marked by election to the fellowship of the Academy of Engineering (later to become ‘Royal’) in 1988 and to the Royal Society in 1990. At the beginning of 1990, I had been appointed as Professor and Head of the School of Metallurgy and Materials at the University of Birmingham, and when news of the FRS came through in March, the Vice Chancellor (Michael Thompson) gave me a pay rise, even though I hadn’t yet started!

That start came in September 1990, and, for one month, I was simultaneously Head of School at Birmingham and Vice-Master of Churchill, since the new Cambridge Academic year did not get underway until October. Fortunately, there were no major conflicts of interest during this time. My welcome to the School was whole-hearted and the ethos was indistinguishable from that of the Cambridge Department that I had left.

Birmingham’s research record was strong, and we were awarded 5A/5A in the 1992 RAE (Research Assessment Exercise): one of only two units in any submission in any subject to obtain the 5 rating for both pure and applied research, with more than 90% staff participation in both areas. It may come as no surprise that the other unit was Cambridge Materials Science and Metallurgy! Again, in 1996, when I had just become Dean of Engineering, but remained as Head of School until the RAE submission, we hit the top rank, with a 5A rating (the ‘pure/applied’ division now having been removed) and have continued to do well under my successors. I was Dean from 1995 until 1998. Various descriptions of my subsequent position were proposed by my nearest and dearest colleagues: ‘A has-been Dean’; ‘A Dean without a Faculty’; ‘A Rural Dean’. Both as Head of School and as Dean of Engineering, I insisted on maintaining my interests in both teaching and research. There were many things on my plate, but I still managed to supervise 20 Birmingham PhD/EngD students.

The application of understanding to real engineering problems is what all this research is about. Metallurgy is an applied science, and we are, at last, beginning to view materials science in a similar light.

When the great thrust towards ‘materials science’ began in the 1980s, there appeared to some of us to be a great deal of simplicity in what was being said, particularly when considering materials required to bear tensile loads: ceramic turbines and the like.

The application of the development of fracture mechanics over the previous two decades was ignored, and a number of predictably non-viable ventures were pursued in the interests of ‘novelty’. Nowadays, a more balanced view is taken, and realistic ‘sums’ are done to evaluate fitness for purpose. Enormous steps have been made in electrical, semiconducting, light-emitting, sensing and actuating systems, but, in the structures area, we are, by and large, still dealing with engineering alloys, although polymer matrix composites (PMCs) are, increasingly, becoming utilised in aerospace and wind-power. In this respect, I am extremely pleased that our Birmingham Metallurgy and Materials course still contains a high metallurgical content: this is what a lot of industry still values. We do not, of course, neglect our teaching in PMCs.

Earlier, I referred to the ‘hoped-for’ industrial relevance of the research being carried out by my Cambridge research group, and, later, to the ‘applied’ aspect of metallurgy. Coming from CERL to Cambridge in 1967, I already had in my mind several projects that derived from practical problems in the electricity generating industry, but lent themselves to more detailed scientific investigation. Some funding for research students came from external sources: earlier on, the Ministry of Defence research establishments; British Steel; later, the Atomic Energy Authority, British Rail, Rolls-Royce, the CEGB Berkeley Laboratories. I also started to become personally involved with the issues faced by these bodies.

In 1973, I was commissioned by MoD to carry out a survey of the assessment of the integrity of ‘high duty’ materials across all the research establishments; in 1974, I spent a period at the NPL (National Physical Laboratory), commenting on their research into mechanical properties; and, in 1978–80, I spent time each summer at the General Electric Research Laboratories in Schenectady, advising on their research in both aerospace materials and electrical power plant. I also spent a month in Japan in the autumn of 1980, as a JPS Fellow, visiting universities, NIMS, and various laboratories of Nippon Steel and other steel companies: Kobe Steel, Sumitomo, Nippon Kokan.

At the end of the 1970s, I joined Walter Marshall’s Study Group on the Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR). This produced reports in 1982 and again in 1987 (the ‘Hirsch Appendix’) giving reassurance on the safety aspects of what became the Sizewell B Reactor. Later, this Study Group ‘morphed’ into TAGSI (The Technical Advisory Group on Structural Integrity, which advises the Nuclear Industry, issues technical and annual reports, and has published a number papers in the open literature): a member since its inception, I became Chairman in March this year.

From 1990 through to 2004, I served on the Nuclear Safety Advisory Committee, becoming Acting Chairman in 2003; I was awarded an OBE ‘for services to nuclear safety’ just before I stepped down. Since 2006, I have served on the Defence Nuclear Safety Committee. I am also a ‘Senior Adviser’ to FESI (the Forum for Engineering Structural Integrity): a body similar to TAGSI, but not specific to the nuclear industry. Another main involvement with industrial application over the last 25–30 years has been continuing membership of TWI’s Research Board and its various committees, advising on the ways in which TWI’s research programmes help its membership in a wide range of areas: from joining techniques, through materials specification, to engineering properties.

Perhaps the most direct link with manufacturing industry, however, and one that has given me enormous pleasure as a result of the variety of technical issues encountered, is my ongoing involvement, since the late1980s, with Rolls-Royce.

Starting as a member of a Board chaired by Sir Alan Cottrell, I was appointed in 2000 as Chair of what is now the Materials, Manufacturing and Structures Advisory Board, which, every year, addresses some half-dozen topics put forward by the company: spanning aerospace, energy systems, and marine; and encompassing design, manufacturing, materials properties, and durability. In addressing these topics, there is continually the feeling of being right at the ‘cutting-edge’: it is a really ‘heady’ feeling; and we work with the knowledge that our views are taken seriously by the company.

What I have tried to convey, possibly at excessive length, in this article, is the tremendous excitement that I have experienced over the years, and continue to experience, from dealings with ‘engineering alloys’, and, more generally, for materials designed for engineering applications. I have also tried to convey this excitement to students, both postgraduate and undergraduate: teaching informed by research is what a University is all about. It is, of course, an added bonus that the research that I and my research group have carried out over the years has been recognised both in the UK and overseas. I have been awarded IOM3’s Griffith Medal (1999) and Platinum Medal (2009), the Royal Society’s Leverhulme Medal (2004), TWI’s Brooker Medal and, by TMS, the Robert Franklin Mehl Award (2005). The University of Glasgow awarded me an Honorary DEng in 2004, and the University of Sheffield will present me with an Honorary DEng in July this year. I am Honorary Professor at Beihang University (1992) and at Xi’an Jiaotong University (1996) in China, a Foreign Associate of the Ukraine National Academy of Science (1994), a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Engineering (2003), a Foreign Member of the Japan Institute of Metals (2005) and a Foreign Fellow of the Indian National Academy of Engineering (2006). These overseas awards reflect many personal interactions with students and collaborators from abroad, and periods of time spent with them in their countries. I have been extremely fortunate to have made so many good friends, all over the world.

Some of the comments above feed through to my editorship of Materials Science and Technology. Readers will be aware that we promote a materials ‘continuum’: from processing, through characterisation, to properties. This is how we do it for Rolls-Royce, and one can’t say much better than that. We also take due account of, and actively encourage papers from, an international authorship.

I am very pleased with what MST has done since 2003, and rather proud of our Literature Review Prize competition, for postgraduate students, with its associated ‘Masterclass’.

The only area that I would like to continue to urge is that of ‘Letters to the Editor’, relating to papers that have appeared in the journal. We have ‘stage managed’ one or two ventures of this sort, but there is, as yet, no free-flowing system in existence. Publication in the journal of a Learned Society should not be just another ‘tick on a list’. An Editor likes to feel that the papers are read, and have stimulated readers to think about the issues, perhaps engendering new thoughts that are worth sharing with other readers of the journal. Go to it! Please!

John Knott
20 March 2010