12 Jul 2018

Ken Mills 1935-2018

Ken Mills, one of the National Physical Laboratory’s most notable luminaries, whose work is acknowledged as groundbreaking by the steel industries around the world, died on 13 May 2018 in Kingston Hospital, aged 83. 

Ken Mills graduated in chemistry from the University of Newcastle in 1956 and was awarded a PhD by Sheffield University for work on carbides in steels and their effect on creep strength. He continued his research at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, USA, working on the thermodynamics of alloys at high temperature. Then followed a short period at the US Steel, Edgar Bain Research Laboratories with E T Turkdogan.

On returning to the UK in 1963, Ken joined the National Chemical Laboratory, which was absorbed into the National Physical Laboratory in 1965, where he developed novel measurement methods for thermodynamic properties at high temperatures. In 1974, he became head of a group working on the measurement of physico-chemical properties of materials related to heat and fluid flow in high-temperature processes. Ken had great interest in the mechanisms and underlying problems in high-temperature processes, such as variable weld penetration and mould flux behaviour in the continuous casting of steel. 

In 1990, he was appointed as a Personal Merit Senior Principal Scientific Officer, in recognition of his contribution and was awarded a DSc from Sheffield University based on his published work to that time.

In 1995 Ken joined Imperial College as a professor and lectured on metal production and heat and mass transfer. His research at Imperial College was principally focused on mould fluxes for continuous casting and slags used in steelmaking processes and on thermo-physical properties of alloys and slags. He also revived his previous interest in the estimation of the properties of slags and alloys from their chemical compositions.

He published over 200 peer reviewed papers in during his long career. Some of these were awarded best paper at scientific meetings and by journals and he is the most cited author on mould powders. In particular he won several awards from IOM3.

 In 1996, he was awarded the Kroll Award in recognition of significant contributions that have enhanced the scientific understanding of materials chemistry as applied to industrial production of materials.

 In 1992 and 2013, he won the Williams award for papers of particular merit with the manufacture and use of iron and steel. He achieved the prestigious Bessemer Gold Medal in 2013 for outstanding services to the steel industry. The citation for his award recognises ‘one of the first scientists to help transform mould powder metallurgy from alchemy to science’ and ‘renowned specialists from around the world supported the nomination.’ He was also awarded the Honorary Membership of the Iron and Steel Institute of Japan (2003).

In 2002, the Mills Symposium - Metals, Slags, Glasses: High Temperature Properties and Phenomena, was held at the then Institute of Materials in London to celebrate Ken’s career. This drew contributions from Europe, America, Australia, and Asia. Technically, it was great success celebrating Ken’s huge contribution to the field, but also showed the esteem and fondness that the international community held him in.

He wrote three books: Thermodynamic data for inorganic sulphides, selenides and tellurides; Recommended values of thermophysical properties for selected commercial alloys; and The Casting Powders Book with Carl-Åke Däcker, which is to be published later this year.

Ken was a generous friend to his colleagues, a grand companion, entertaining with amusing stories garnered from a lifetime of research and travel. Ken was a great family man and loved to tell everyone about his children and grandchildren.

He was an attentive mentor to innumerable students. His teachings went from exemplary scientific ethics, encyclopaedic knowledge of materials and their processing, technical writing, and critical thinking. Ken’s humbleness and openness to new ideas were the principles that undoubtedly marked his disciples in the most profound way. If any student ever dreamt of being a scientist, engineer, or professor, they would dream of being like Ken. His unstoppable curiosity and scientific instinct will be profoundly missed on these days where publications often lack originality.

Colleagues and students will also miss Ken’s contagious enthusiasm for science and his kindness. This kindness extended not only to colleagues and friends in the academic world, but also to students’ families, industrial partners, and technicians in any place where Ken set afoot. Such enthusiasm permeated in all of his work, but also in the way he lived his life. Certainly, you would always leave Ken with a smile, being happier and even a better person.

As a friend, colleague, and family man, Ken will be sorely missed.

This tribute was compiled by his former colleagues at the National Physical Laboratory and Imperial College, London.