Colin Humphreys: materials science funding

Colin Humphreys recalls some imaginative strategies for encouraging increased funding for materials science.

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I was chairman of this materials commission for four years and our funding increased four times over this four years, just a huge increase in funding. So it was very successful and it worked very well. And I also sat on the council of the SERC. 

What did you say to convince them? 

I became very well known for giving short talks with practical demonstrations, so I would just produce artificial hips, for example, and say if we had more funding in artificial hips then we could make them last longer and this would save the health service money, it would benefit patients. I took along a ceramic turbine blade and threw it on the ground to show it didn’t shatter and it bounced just past the chairman’s ear so that was memorable [laughs]. And we actually got into a really good situation whereby I got the science board to give more funding and then I went to the engineering board and said, ‘You know, can you at least match what’s given by the science board?’ and they actually bid against each other which was unusual so that was very good. It was successful in fact when Bill Mitchell who was the chairman of SERC, when he went to the government to get more money I was the person he took with him and I made this presentation so – well there were two government ministers ‘cause it happened more than once. So Ken Clarke was one I made a presentation to. 

Was there a demonstration at this as well? 

There was a demonstration, yes, so we chose it carefully. So the artificial hip was a demonstration I think for both of them, ‘cause that just goes well because politicians know people with artificial hips. And we knew that Ken Clarke was a fairly sort of lively, you know, laidback character, so I talked about something called shape memory metal there, which you probably haven’t heard of. Okay, so it’s remarkable, you can give metals a memory it appears so you can bend them into a certain shape, then you can deform them and just heat them up and they go back to their original shape. And the demonstration we did for Ken Clarke, which I’m sure he remembered, was shape memory bras. So [laughs] – so the Japanese were just leading the world in this, this is underwire bras, the problem apparently is that you’re supposed to hand wash them, ‘cause if you put them in the washing machine the wire can bend, so the shape memory bras it doesn’t matter. You put them in the washing machine, the wire can bend and at body temperature they sort of snap back into place. So we did this with Ken Clarke and gave him a demonstration and I think he remembered that and we got more money for it – more money for materials so that was good [laughs].

  • Interviewee Colin Humphreys
  • Duration 00:02:39
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Thomas Lean
  • Date of interview 10/19/2012
  • Shelfmark C1379/88
  • Keywords

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