By Bill Graham
Bill Graham started his working life at the coal face – as an apprentice mechanic of the mine for the National Coal Board in the collieries of his home county of Fife. It was a Coal Board scholarship that enabled him to go on to study for a BSc in engineering at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.
He graduated with first class honours and went on to take a Master’s degree, with a thesis on aspects of thin gas films in lubricating high-speed low-friction bearings.
That link between abstract theory and direct practical hands-on application is something that’s been a feature of so much of what he does. His career has taken him from managing a large industrial laboratory to meeting astronauts and making a model Mars rover from scrap!
From university he went on to the Mining Research Establishment at Isleworth in London, working on the design of automotive mining machinery for remotely-operated long-wall coal faces. The machinery was guided along the coal face through tiny quantities of radiation scattered off the coal-rock interface.
His next job would give him an opportunity to travel in a different direction and take a pilot’s licence in spare time. “It was quite a change indeed,” he says. “After working deeper than 2,000 feet underground in my early days in Fife, I was up to 11,000 feet in the air, in Cessna and Piper aircraft. This was at Cambridge where I went to work at Hinxton Hall, home of the TI Group’s research laboratories.”
The TI Group of more than 140 companies manufactured a vast range of products – from steel to machine tools, from gas cookers to aircraft components. They set up research laboratories at Cambridge to develop the use of new materials such as plastics and ceramics, and they had the most advanced research equipment of the time and leading scientists and engineers to work with it. And they were set up with a vision. Basic research had contributed so much to winning the war and now in peacetime it would be applied to solve problems and create new opportunities for a post-war resurgence of industry…
To read the full story, be sure to pick up a copy of the March 2018 issue, or download a copy from our shop!