Fellows' Lounge
1 Feb 2018

Professor Leslie Andrew Erasmus BSc(Eng) MSc(Eng) PhD(Cape Town) CEng FIMMM MIMechE FIPENZ, 1933-2016

Leslie Andrew Erasmus died on 3 November 2016, aged 82 years. Les was educated at Pretoria Technical College 1948-51, served as an apprentice fit and turner at the Mufulira Copper Mines, Zambia, 1952-1954, and then read Mechanical Engineering at the University of Cape Town South Africa 1954-1958, being supported on a Northern Rhodesia Chamber of Mines University Bursary. 

Armed with a Federation of British Industries postgraduate scholarship, 1959-1960, he spent the next two years in the UK working with Steel Peech and Tozer Ltd, then the British Iron and Steel Research Association and finally the United Steel Company’s Research and Development Department. He subsequently worked for Steel Peach and Tozer Limited, Sheffield, 1961-1964, as a Senior Research Metallurgical Engineer investigating the effects of aluminium and vanadium on the structure and properties of mild steel and their role in controlling austenite grain size, forgeability and impact properties of low alloy steels. Les obtained the Licentiate of the Institution of Metallurgists, 1962 and an MSc(Eng), University of Cape Town, 1971 and his PhD, also from the University of Cape Town, in 1972.

In 1965 he was appointed to the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, as Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, with responsibility for Metallurgy and Materials. He eventually became Professor of Mechanical Engineering in 1979 and Head of Department for various periods from 1983 until retirement in 1993. He played a significant leadership role in the development and implementation of the Materials Engineering Curricula for the Degree of Mechanical Engineering, Postgraduate Study Programmes and affiliated faculty programmes. His enthusiasm instilled an appreciation and understanding of metallurgy and materials in the many undergraduate  students who attended his lectures. His many contributions to continuing education programmes, seminars, conferences, research and consultantcies, in New Zealand, have extended this awareness of the importance of engineering materials to a wide range of practising professional engineers. 

On arrival in Christchurch, Professor Erasmus developed a research programme to investigate those mechanical properties of steels that were of particular relevance in the New Zealand civil engineering context, where structures are subject to intense earthquake loading. An appreciation of the significance of the plastic ductility of steel reinforcement to the capacity design criteria used in New Zealand building specifications, resulted in research efforts being focused on methods of improving the resistance to brittle fracture of locally manufactured structural steel products, especially reinforcing bar. Les was a recognised national and international authority on the role of nitrogen, microalloying and dual phase effects in structural and specialty steels.

Professor Erasmus became a Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1966, a Fellow of the Institution of Metallurgists in 1975 and a Fellow of the Institution of Professional Engineers NZ, IPENZ, in 1978. He was also heavily involved with professional and technical groups such as IPENZ and the Royal Aeronautical Society NZ. He was a foundation member of the New Zealand branch of the Australasian Institute of Metals, a forerunner to the Institute of Metals and Materials Australasia.

Les received a number of awards in appreciation of his significant contribution to metallurgical research and engineering in New Zealand, including University of Canterbury Erskine Fellowships (82 & 89), IPENZ Fulton Downer Gold Medals (84 & 88), the IPENZ Angus Award (89 & 94) and the Engineering Materials Group of IPENZ RH Cooper Award (95). He also had an established reputation in failure analysis and received the Henry Wigram Medal of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1982 and the New Zealand Science & Technology Medal in 1997.

Les is survived by his wife, Daphne, three sons and five grandchildren – a devoted husband, father and grandfather and a loyal colleague, who will be missed by many.

Professor Emeritus George Ferguson CSci CEng FIMMM FIEAust FIPENZ