Obituary – Professor Ray Smallman FIMMM

Fellows' Lounge
10 Mar 2015

Professor Raymond Edward Smallman CBE DSc FREng FRS FIMMM

Born: 4 August 1929

Died: 25 February 2015

Ray Smallman was very much a son of the Midlands, born in Wolverhampton on 4 August 1929. He was the middle child of a family of five siblings, two brothers and two sisters and he was certainly not born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, not even mild steel! He lived most of his early life near Cannock in Staffordshire and throughout the hard times of the 1930s and the subsequent war years, he helped in the family fish and chip shop and general store. With his Father, a Royal Flying Corps veteran, away in the RAF, the running of the shop depended on the collective efforts of the remainder of the family. This involved Ray having to rise early to collect fish and produce at the local railway station, before going to school, followed, in the evenings by taking out orders and peeling potatoes. Inevitably, school work was a lower priority than the survival of the shop but Ray derived great strength of character from his mother who, as a 5 year old, had received 80% burns in a near-fatal, bonfire morning accident. A truly remarkable woman with little formal education but a tremendous sense of determination.

Despite or perhaps because of all these challenges, Ray won a scholarship to Rugeley Grammar School where, from 1939 to 1947, he was a pupil. In 1945, the return of his father from the war proved to be a crucial event and enabled Ray to enter the 6th form and to take his Higher School Certificate. Hence from Rugeley, he went to his local, University of Birmingham where he also joined hundreds of returning ex-servicemen. This proved to be a very positive factor as he was influenced greatly by their mature and enthusiastic attitude to learning. During this time, Ray had met and fallen for a very attractive local girl, Doreen (Faulkner) and this was the beginning of a partnership that lasted over 62 years. They were married on the 6th of September 1952.

Thus, in the autumn of 1947, Ray began his long and very distinguished association with the University of Birmingham. He entered the then Department of Metallurgy which was under the leadership of Professor Daniel Hanson. Those were great days for Metallurgy and great days for Birmingham and Ray was taught by and exposed to, such metallurgical luminaries as G.V.Raynor, Frank Nabarro, Bruce Bilby, Tsun Ko, Jock Eshelby and of course Alan Cottrell (later to become Sir Alan). Ray drank up all these influences and, in 1950, graduated with a first–class honours in Theoretical and Structural Metallurgy. He then stayed on to do a PhD on the “Structure of Cold Worked Metals” under the joint supervision of Alan Cottrell and Kingsley Williamson. Ray’s first paper was published in 1953, the same year he obtained his PhD and his second paper was published in the very first edition of Acta Metallurgica.

In 1953, as a newly married man, he left Birmingham to join the Metallurgy Division at AERE Harwell. These were the heady days of the relatively new subject of nuclear metallurgy with the added ingredient of irradiation damage. He worked initially on the properties of liquid metals and then on crystallographic aspects of the plastic deformation of metals. In 1956 Ray was appointed Section Leader in the Basic Irradiated Group under the direction of his ex-PhD supervisor, Alan Cottrell FRS who had also left Birmingham to join Harwell. This was a particularly significant time in Ray’s career as it was Alan Cottrell who directed Ray into the field of electron microscopy which subsequently formed such an important part of his scientific life. The main drive at this time was to establish the precise structure of irradiated solids and this marked the beginning of the long and fruitful association between Ray and Ken Westmacott who began his professional life as an experimental officer at Harwell. Very sadly Ken died about a year ago but their close friendship endured until the end. In those early years Ken and Ray built a small-angle X-ray scattering camera and their results indicated defect clusters some tens of nanometers in size in the irradiated material. They were very excited about these results and discussed their findings with Alan Cottrell who characteristically observed that “seeing is believing” and that such defects should be observable in an electron microscope. At that time, in the UK, only Mike Whelan and Peter Hirsch (later Sir Peter) at Cambridge were using the electron microscope for metallurgical-type observations. This was the genesis of the dislocation loop story which absorbed Ray and others in the community for many years. As well as scientific milestones , his time at Harwell will also be remembered for the birth of their first child, a daughter, Lesley in Abingdon in August 1955. In 1958, Ray was appointed lecturer in the Department of Physical Metallurgy at the University of Birmingham which was then under the leadership of Professor G.V.Raynor. The old Department had split into Physical and Industrial Metallurgy, the latter under the leadership of Professor E.C. Rollason. Ray’s arrival proved to be a “breath of fresh air” and clearly he put a lot of effort into his lectures so that he quickly became one of the most popular lecturers in the Department. He also proceeded to build a world-class research team to investigate the fundamental behaviour of atomic scale defects in metals and ceramics. Clearly an absolutely vital tool for these studies was an electron microscope, certainly not a standard piece of kit in those days and Alan Cottrell was instrumental in Ray acquiring Birmingham’s very first electron microscope. At that time, Alan Cottrell was chair of the Metallurgy Committee of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) and Ray submitted a research proposal for a Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) and, in 1959, was awarded the princely sum of £11,000 to purchase an EM6G microscope.

Ray’s research students in those pioneering times included names such as Ken Ashbee, Trevor Lindley, John Terry, Jeff Edington, Brian Beeston and Tony Ball. It was a different world then and a lot was expected of the post graduate students in that much of the ancillary equipment was designed and built “in-house,’ employing the magnificent skills of the Departmental Workshop Staff and not only were the students involved in these activities but also in building partitions, covering bench tops, painting walls and even helping to construct a hardboard box which was proudly christened the electron microscope laboratory. In those days, there were no purpose-built laboratories and Physical Metallurgy research was crammed into C-block in the original, Edwardian Aston-Webb building under the twin domes. These laboratories were quite close to the Physics Department and stray magnetic fields emanating from the Physics Synchrotron proved to be a particular problem. When in operation, this machine produced a magnetic pulse every nine seconds and the intrepid researchers in Metallurgy were often reduced to taking pictures on the electron microscope between these magnetic pulses. These problems did not prevent ground-breaking research.

Ray and Doreen’s second child, Robert, was born in 1959 and those early years in Metallurgy at Birmingham proved to be fruitful ones both personally and scientifically. A visit to Ray’s office at any time, demonstrated very clearly how well organised he was and this has been a source of some envy to those of us whose lives are largely chaotic. Amongst all his many and varied activities he found time to write his classic, Modern Physical Metallurgy, the first edition of which appeared in 1962. This is still going strong with the recent appearance of the eighth edition and his productivity over some 50 years, was quite remarkable with the supervision (solely and jointly) of more than 100 PhD students, many of them staying in academia and 25 becoming professors and others occupying senior technical positions throughout the world. Together with his colleagues and students he published more than 300 research papers and, in addition to his classic tome, he published jointly several other books, Modern Metallography, Structure of Metals and Alloys, Defect Analysis in Electron Microscopy, Metals and Materials: Science, Processes and Applications, Modern Physical Metallurgy and Materials Engineering and Physical Metallurgy and Advanced Materials. All this just shows what a creative and organised mind can achieve.

In 1963 Ray was appointed senior lecturer and in 1964, at the early age of 35, he was appointed to a personal chair in Physical Metallurgy. The sixties proved to be enjoyable and fun years for Ray and he was able to focus on his research and teaching activities. Defects, particularly vacancies and dislocation loops comprised a major theme of his research but there were also bridges with the alloy chemistry and rolling texture groups with his work on intermetallics and on stacking fault energy. A particular memory for me was our joint work with David Fort and John Kilner, on the ordered b.c.c. PdIn phase which, like NiAl, also formed constitutional vacancies with the associated collapse of the lattice spacings.

Ray’s history is very much that of Metallurgy at the University of Birmingham and in 1965, Physical Metallurgy moved to the present site on Prichatts road.

The first class teaching and research facilities within the new building were the result of close discussions between the three professors, G.V.Raynor (Head of Department), Alan McQuillan, Ray and the other members of staff. Over a period of 40 years or more, these facilities coped extremely well with the demands, a tribute to the foresight of those early, democratic discussions.

In 1966, Mike Loretto joined the Department and this was the beginning of the long and sometimes turbulent, association between Ray and Mike. This appointment certainly underpinned the TEM activities within the Department and ensured that they would continue to evolve and to explore new territories as Ray became progressively more involved in administrative and strategic matters both within the Department and within the wider University. Thus, in 1969, G.V. Raynor became Vice-Principal and Ray was appointed Feeney Professor of Metallurgy and Head of Department of Physical Metallurgy and Science of Materials. In 1971, this appointment was followed by the newly formed Chairmanship of the School of Metallurgy, comprising the Departments of Physical Metallurgy and Industrial Metallurgy. The latter was still on the old C-block site next to the Aitchison laboratory. In many ways this arrangement proved to be an uncomfortable compromise and Ray’s objective was to achieve the complete merger of the two Departments on the Prichatts Road site. He was very much aware of the vulnerability of Metallurgy in Birmingham which was, in fact, in terms of student numbers, a minnow in the large Science and Engineering Faculty pool. This fear appeared to be fully justified by the subsequent disappearance of the second-oldest Metallurgy Department in the UK at Aston, just down the road in the centre of Birmingham, and the subsequent demise of the Departments of Minerals Engineering and Production Engineering in this University. The fact that the School of Metallurgy and Materials at the University of Birmingham, is still alive and well owes much to Ray’s strategic acumen during those critical years.

Throughout the 1970s, Ray continued to pursue the strategy of strengthening the Departmental base by ensuring a strong representation on university–wide bodies as chair of the Engineering Group of Departments followed by Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering. He always made sure that Metallurgy and Materials was well informed and well supported and this was not always popular with his colleagues in other departments. Parallel activities on a national scale resulted in 1970-71, in Birmingham becoming a National Centre for Electron Microscopy with the introduction of the AEI, EM7, 1MV microscope, which was one of three funded by the Government to further structural research in the UK. This very exciting development allowed the observation of in-situ studies of deformation, annealing and recrystallization, transformations at low temperatures and irradiation damage in various structural materials. The facility was housed in a purpose-built HVEM building and provided a considerable stimulus to the TEM research activities within the Department. In particular, the in-situ studies of plastic deformation, environmental cell oxidation and high–energy, electron–induced radiation damage in a variety of materials. It should also be noted that many of the specialist stages required for these investigations were designed and constructed “in-house” employing the highly skilled workshop personnel within the Department, thus acquiring invaluable “home-grown” skills. A far cry from today.

In 1989, after almost 20 years of productive operation, the HVEM was closed down and the building subsequently housed the Plasma Melter, which formed part of the Interdisciplinary Research Centre (IRC) and the building proved ideal for this new function.

In 1981, one of Ray’s long term objectives was achieved with the unification of the two Departments together with the Centre for Materials Science to form the new Department of Metallurgy and Materials but it was another 13 years until vital facilities such as the foundry were transferred to the new site. In 1984, while still Head of School, Ray was elected as Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering. However, he was still of the firm belief that Engineering at Birmingham should be alongside Science as a separate faculty, just where, all those years ago, Josiah Mason had envisaged it to be and, true to form, in 1985, Ray was elected the first Dean of the newly created Faculty of Engineering.

1986 proved a very special year with his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society and this was celebrated by the whole Department. In 1987, Ray relinquished his Deanship to become Vice-Principal (VP), essentially deputy-vice chancellor, of his beloved University. After a year of occupying his new position he relinquished the headship and Mike Loretto became Head of Department. Characteristically, Ray rose to the challenge of being VP and he was much assisted in this task by a very good working relationship with the Vice-Chancellor, Michael (later Sir Michael) Thompson. He was a physicist and had been at A.E.R.E. Harwell around the same time as Ray and had also worked on radiation damage. Ray was given a reasonably free hand by the VC and he formed a formidable team with David Holmes as Secretary/Registrar, David Hardie as Director of Finance, Phil Denner, Director of Planning and Bob Bushaway as Director of Research and Industrial Liaison. This team was stimulated by Ray’s strategic thinking and his “can-do” philosophy and between them they were responsible for a number of fundamental and far-reaching changes to the University structure. An essential part of Ray’s approach was to maintain and grow the strong interactions between Science and Engineering as equal partners and he boosted the status of Engineering within the University. Partly in recognition of this, in 1991. he became a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (F.R.Eng). Membership of both the premier societies of science and engineering was a true reflection of Ray’s interests and where he saw Metallurgy as a discipline.

Over the years, Ray received numerous honours and awards including Foreign Associate of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (2005) and a Commander of The British Empire (CBE) in 1992. He received Honorary Doctorates from the University of Wales (1990), Novi Sad, Former Yugoslavia (1990) and Cranfield University (2001) and Honorary Fellowships from the China Ordinance Society and from the Czech Society for Metal Science.

Ray was always a strong supporter of the metallurgical societies, both local (Birmingham Metallurgical Association) and nationally (Institute of Materials). Thus, in !972 he became President of the BMetA and his firm support for this organisation persisted over the years and culminated in October 2012 when the BMetA held a special event to commemorate Ray’s old friend and colleague, Sir Alan Cottrell who had died earlier that year. In his talk describing the days when Sir Alan was in Birmingham, Ray demonstrated all his old magic and transfixed the audience with his tales of those pioneering days. His communication skills had not been blunted by the passing of the years.

Of particular interest to this readership will be his contribution to the Institute as a long serving member of the Councils and Vice-President of The Institute of Metals, The Metals Society and The Institute of Materials. For over 20 years, he was Chair of the Editorial Committee of the Metals Science Journal, the forerunner of Materials Science and Technology, Chair of the International Affairs Committee and took a prominent role in the development and growth of the Federation of European Materials Societies (FEMS) becoming President of this organisation from 1994 to 1996. He also served on many National committees promoting Industrial—Educational partnerships, was Chair of the Metallurgy and Magnetic Materials Committee of the then Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC) and a Council Member. Always making sure that the voice of engineering was heard within what were often predominantly science based bodies. This has been a common theme through his professional life both within and without the University.

His internationalism was also manifested in his lecturing activities and he held visiting appointments in the Universities of Pennsylvania, Stanford, Berkeley and Case Western Reserve, U.S.A., Cape Town South Africa, New South Wales, Australia, Hong Kong (before and after independence), and Novi Sad, Former Yugoslavia. In addition, for 30 years he was Governor of the local Tettenhall College, he was Warden of the Birmingham Assay Office and a Non-executive Director of the University of Birmingham, NHS Hospital Trust.

In recognition of his major contributions to his discipline he was awarded the Sir George Beilby Gold Medal of The Royal Institute of Chemistry and The Institute of Metals (1969), the Rosenhain Medal of The Metals Society (1979),the Van Horn Distinguished Lecture Award (1978), the Elegant Work Prize of The Metals Society (1979) and the Platinum Medal of The Institute of Materials (1989), the Acta Materialia Gold Medal Prize (2004).

Looking at all these achievements, I can’t help being reminded of Oliver Goldsmith’s tribute to the Village Schoolmaster:

And still they gaz’d and still the wonder grew, That one small head could carry all he knew.

There were other positive features of his time as Vice Principal such as the strengthening of the links between Physics and Chemistry and Engineering with the establishment of the laser ablation facility which, in 1989, brought together researchers from Physics, Chemistry, Electrical Engineering and Metallurgy and Materials to produce and study thin films of the newly discovered High Tc superconducting oxides. Over his years at Birmingham and in various capacities, Ray had developed a close relationship with the Head of Metallurgy at the University of Wales, Swansea, Professor Brian Wilshire. Consequently, together with his long standing partnership with Mike Loretto, Ray was able to make a positive contribution in securing the new Inter-disciplinary Research Centre (IRC) for Materials for High Performance Applications which was a joint enterprise with Swansea and began operation in 1989 under the directorship of Mike Loretto and I became Acting Head of Metallurgy and Materials. On his formal retirement from the University in 1993, Ray became an Emeritus Professor.

It is difficult to believe that this ever bright light has now gone and it would be presumptuous of me to try and assess the most important aspect of his many contributions to the University, to his discipline of Metallurgy, to his family and friends. I did, however, want to emphasise what I believe is the very powerful and positive influence he has had on the future of our discipline both at this University and generally. I will miss him greatly and my life is diminished by his departure. He was a true and loyal friend, was always interested in my career and provided much needed support when I was Head of Department. We were poles apart politically but our arguments and disagreements were always mitigated by warmth and humour. He was no saint and he could be intimidating but I hope I have shown that he was a loyal and very effective friend to Metallurgy at Birmingham. I somehow doubt that, without his strategic acumen and single minded implementation of priorities, we would still be flying the flag for Metallurgy at Birmingham. He appreciated fully the subtle nature of our subject which provides an essential bridge between science and engineering and the ever present danger of falling down that hole in the middle. Ray Smallman had many tempting offers to move on to pastures new and could easily have reached the position of Vice Chancellor. Nevertheless he did not succumb to these temptations and take what would have been the easy route. He formulated a strategy and stuck with it and through a combination of hard work, luck and good judgement reached a successful conclusion. Those of us who have followed know how fragile these achievements can be and we owe it to his legacy and to his memory to continue to resist the forces of short-termism and the view that “big is always beautiful”.

Rex Harris.

Birmingham, 16 March 2015.