Steel Heroes - Constance Fligg Tipper


  • 1894–1995
  • Frecheville fellowship 1921-3
  • Royal Society of Armourers and Brasiers fellowship 1924-9
  • DSc from London University 1926
  • Newnham College research fellowship 1930-1
  • Research Fellowship from Leverhulme Trust 1936
  • Cambridge ScD degree 1949

Educated at Newnham College Cambridge, where she was one of the first women to take the natural sciences tripos.

Worked briefly at the National Physical Laboratory, and then joined the Royal School of Mines where she worked on the strength of single crystal aluminium.

She then worked in Cambridge on understanding crystal plasticity.

She moved to a research fellowship at Newnham College Cambridge in 1930

In 1949 Cambridge made her a reader in mechanical engineering until her retirement in 1960.

She published 2 books, “Deformation of Metal Crystals” (1935) Oxford University Press, and “The Brittle Fracture Story” (1962) Cambridge University Press.

In 1994 Newnham College planted a sweet chestnut tree to commemorate her 100th birthday.

Tipper’s most important work was on the brittle fracture of the Liberty Ships during the second world war.  In the cold ocean waters of the North Atlantic, a few of the ships literally broke in half after developing cracks that instantly travelled the whole way around the ship.  She demonstrated that the material used in the American ships was notch brittle at temperatures above freezing point and so under quite normal conditions at sea would behave more like cast iron than ductile mild steel.  She was the first person to define the ductile brittle transition curve to identify the temperature at which a metal becomes prone to shattering (brittle) under load, rather than deforming (ductile).  This lead to the development of a full thickness edge-notched tensile test that became the standard method for determining brittleness in steel—now commonly known as the “Tipper test.” 

She was also the first person to use a scanning electron microscope to examine fracture faces.

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