UK Scientist Wins Highest International Prize for Tribology Research

A prestigious award will return to the UK for the first time in 19 years this week, when Professor Hugh Spikes is presented with the Tribology Trust’s Gold Medal at Buckingham Palace on 24 February 2005.

The medal recognises outstanding achievement in the field of tribology, an area of science focusing on the study of friction, wear and lubrication.

Professor Spikes, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College London, explains: “Tribology is the study of what happens when things rub together and it pervades our lives – how to design more efficient car engines of course, but also quieter and safer tyres and roads, the design of hair conditioners, why silk feels smoother than wool, the eye blinking on a contact lens. Tribology is concerned with analysing and understanding all of these.”

Professor Spikes is a world acknowledged expert in this field. His findings are routinely entered in text books and are widely used by the additive and manufacturing industry, while his close contact with industry means that his work quickly transfers to practice at the engineering level. An example of this is research carried out in the 1980s on the friction and wear properties of diesel fuel which played a key role in enabling the development of low sulphur fuels.

Tribology at Imperial is further recognised with the award of the Silver Medal to Dr Philippa Cann, a principal research fellow and one of the UK’s leading experts in the field of grease lubrication. Her research focuses primarily on understanding lubrication mechanisms in rolling element bearings. She explains:

“Despite the fundamental nature of this work, it has enormous practical importance – for example, in contributing to the development of design tools to improve bearing performance and extend operating life. It also provides for the first time a scientific basis for grease selection and the optimisation of lubricant properties.

“Research into grease lubrication has been neglected in recent years, so it is a great encouragement that my work in this area has been recognised by the Tribology Trust.”

Sir Richard Sykes, Rector of Imperial College London, says: “For an institution to attract just one of these medals would be a huge achievement. That both the Gold and the Silver have come to Imperial is a tribute to the innovative work being carried out by the tribology group, and is well deserved. Imperial aims to attract the world’s best researchers and teachers – Hugh and Philippa exemplify that and I offer them my heartiest congratulations.”

Professor H Peter Jost, Chairman of the Tribology Trust, administered by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, says: “The UK has now won the Gold Medal six times since it was established in 1972. We are delighted Professor Spikes has returned it to the UK and equally delighted that Dr Cann has won the Silver. It is an honour for Imperial College and UK tribology.”

Professor Spikes, who previously won the Silver Medal in 1995, adds: “I am delighted for myself and Philippa – it’s the first time that both medals have ever gone to the same research group in the same year, so everyone is very excited and pleased.”

The tribology section within Imperial’s Department of Mechanical Engineering is one of the largest in the world, carrying out research into lubrication and into the mechanics, friction, wear, fatigue and damage of contacting mechanical components. Applications include helicopters, motor vehicles, industrial machinery and scientific instruments.

Photographs of Hugh Spikes and Philippa Cann are available. Images of Professor Spikes receiving his award from HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at Buckingham Palace will be available after the event.

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