Obituary – Professor Philip Beckley BSc PhD DSc ChSc FIMMM

Fellows' Lounge
15 Dec 2016

Professor Philip Beckley BSc PhD DSc ChSc FIMMM 1936–2016

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our dear friend and colleague, Philip Beckley, on 10 June 2016. Philip worked in the electrical steels industry for almost 40 years and his contribution to the technology earned him international renown both within the industry and also in academia.

Philip was born on 25 May 1936 in Parkend, UK. He attended Monmouth School from 1947 to 1955 before joining the RAF. While in the RAF, he developed an interest in radio and radar, which continued through his life. In 1957, he went to the University of Southampton, UK, where he obtained an honours degree in General Science and it was while he was at university that he met his wife-to-be, Mary.

Following graduation in 1960, he joined the Steel Company of Wales at Orb Works, Newport, as a trainee metallurgist. He was soon appointed Senior Physicist and then Principal Research Officer. Philip progressed rapidly through the technical ranks and, in 1983, was appointed Manager Technical and Research at the plant. He continued to hold this post after the formation of European Electrical Steel and retired in 1996 after almost 14 years as a senior manager. During this time, he managed various European Economic Community research projects and jointly led a major DTI grant scheme designed to develop energy efficient motors. In 1995, he was awarded the Stokowiec medal for his work on high alloy silicon steels. After retirement, Philip continued to work as a consultant until 2007 when illness curtailed his activities.

In 1969, he was awarded a PhD by Cardiff University, UK, for his thesis, Some aspects of the relationship between loss, domain wall motion and ageing in grain oriented silicon iron, and was later awarded a DSc by the University of Southampton. In 1972, he was appointed a Fellow of the Institute of Physics. Five years later, he was appointed a Fellow of the Institute of Metals and, subsequently, a Fellow of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, and, on his retirement in 1996, he was made an honorary life member of the UK Magnetics Society.

Philip was also a Visiting Professor at Cardiff University for about 20 years. He was a valuable member of industrial advisory committees and stimulated student interest in industrial magnetic materials through a range of specialised lectures and practical demonstrations. During this period, he maintained a particularly close relationship with staff and students at the Wolfson Centre for Magnetics. This ranged from providing professional advice and encouragement to staff, to the informal mentoring of a host of postgraduate students. There is no doubt that the success of the centre can be at least partly attributed to his continuous personal encouragement and advice.

Philip was passionate about developing young students into materials scientists and engineers. He was heavily involved in the Teaching Company Scheme, which enabled new graduates to progress to a doctorate from Cardiff University by undertaking an industrial research project based at Orb Works. Many of these students have subsequently progressed to senior positions in industry and academia with the support and encouragement from Philip Beckley playing a significant part in their success.

He was also a natural entertainer whose ingenuity and sense of fun knew no bounds. Who could forget his lecture to the UK Magnetics Society where he wore boots with steel plates in the soles and used an electromagnet to suspend himself upside down in order to demonstrate the strength of the magnetic field and the concept of magnetic permeability? School children at the talk were mesmerised and, more importantly, inspired to find out more about science. He was also a source of encouragement to the school children that came to Orb Works for work experience and was delighted to see some of them go on to university and return as graduate trainees.

During his career, Philip built up a reputation as an internationally renowned technical expert and regularly presented papers at national and international conferences. He also represented the industry on the British Standards Committees and the International Electrotechnical Commission Committees on Magnetic Alloys and Steels.

Philip led a full life outside of work. He was a family man, did some lay preaching many years ago, ran a half marathon, had an antique wireless collection, and authored two technical books. He was even an expert on grandfather clocks. Philip was also an active committee member of the Newport and District Materials Society and served as President in 2000–2002.

Despite suffering a stroke in 2003, he continued his role as a consultant and mentor to PhD students at Cardiff University. He also authored a book entitled The Effective Engineer and attended various international technical conferences before the problems with his health severely restricted his activity.

Philip was certainly quite a character and he showed great enthusiasm for whatever he did. He was well liked by all and his technical expertise earned him the respect of his peers all over the world. He will be sorely missed by his family, friends and the world of magnetics and electrical steels.

He leaves his wife Mary, children Kate and Peter and two grandsons, Tom and Danny.

Alan Coombs CEng FIMMM and Hugh Stanbury PhD BSc ARCS