Obituary – William Thompson Roberts FIMMM

Fellows' Lounge
15 Nov 2016

William Thompson Roberts FIMMM 1928–2016

William Thompson “Bill” Roberts, who died on 8 August 2016 at the age of 88, will be remembered by the many students of Metallurgy and Materials at the University of Birmingham, UK, to whom he taught crystallography, and by anyone with an interest in plastic anisotropy.

Bill progressed from school on Anglesey to Bangor University College, UK, where he first studied physics and researched for his PhD under the supervision of Professor E A Owen – a pioneer in the use of X-ray crystallography to study alloy behaviour. Leaving Bangor, he spent a year at the University of Cambridge, UK, working in Peter Hirsch’s group using microbeam X-rays to examine the fine structure of metals, an endeavour that was overtaken by the development of the transmission electron microscope. He then took up a position in Birmingham with the new metals research group at ICI Metals Division. There he worked with Trevor Lloyd Richards, who had worked on controlling the preferred orientation texture in the copper used in cartridge cases during the Second World War. This led to an interest that Bill continued for the rest of his career. However, it would have been his crystallographic expertise that encouraged ICI to appoint Bill, as they tackled the problems presented by promising close packed hexagonal metals.

In 1960, Bill moved across the city to take up a post as Lecturer in Metallurgy at the University of Birmingham, where he remained until his retirement, eventually becoming Reader in Metallurgy. Over 30 years, he made notable contributions to the study of the anisotropic behaviour of metals and supervised several students who went on to have distinguished careers. He co-authored Preferred Orientation in Wrought and Annealed Metals for Metallurgical Reviews, in which he wrote the section on non-cubic metals and alloys. This review is still referred to 50 years later. He collaborated with Hans Bunge to produce the first orientation distribution function of the preferred orientation in low-carbon sheet steel, an important matter for study then and today. However, he did not only study anisotropy that was crystallographic in origin but also collaborated with Donald Wilson on the most significant study of the generalised Bauschinger effect, where a material’s microscopic stress distribution alters its stress/strain characteristics. 

Bill joined the then Institute of Metallurgists in 1972 and became a Fellow in 1977. He was a recipient of the Institute’s Pfeil Medal in 1993. He had a long and fruitful life, and will be remembered by all who benefited and who learned from him.

Ian Dillamore FREng FIMMM