Sound and vision blog

04 August 2014

RIP to one of the fathers of composite materials

Thomas Lean, project interviewer for National Life Stories writes:

The recent death of Professor Anthony Kelly brings to a close the long career of one of Britain's foremost material scientists, who played an important role in the development of composite materials. These combine two or more different materials, such as embedding tiny fibres of carbon in a plastic resin to create a new material with unique properties – such as carbon fibre, which is stiffer than steel but far lighter. Interviewed for the National Life Stories project An Oral History of British Science, Tony was born in 1929 and had a Catholic upbringing, the certainties of which he found readily compatible with science, as he mentions in the following clip about his attraction to science at school:

Tony Kelly recalls enjoying the certainty he found in science whilst at school

After an undergraduate degree at the University of Reading he started a PhD at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge in the 1950s. Tony's research work on the physics of metals reflected a broader trend of physicists had starting to apply their methods to other disciplines – amongst his contemporaries were Francis Crick and James Watson, two of the discoverers of DNA. Tony briefly joined the 'brain drain' by leaving austerity Britain to work at Northwestern University in the United States, before returning to a lectureship at Cambridge as part of department head Alan Cottrell's efforts to encourage a modern physics based approach to the study of materials. In the 1960s Tony's research work helped to establish the theoretical basis for how composite materials would behave, which Tony demonstrates in the following video clip of him recalling his early work in this area.


From Cambridge, Tony enjoyed a varied career. He served as deputy director of the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington; advised several major companies, including ICI; was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Surrey, where he introduced one of the first science parks in Britain; and enjoyed a busy retirement as an emeritus professor in Cambridge, where he died this June. 

Other video extracts with Anthony Kelly can be found on the Voices of Science website.  Many of the full life story interviews recorded for the Oral History of British Science programme can be accessed worldwide via British Library Sounds.


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