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UK scientist wins highest international prize for tribology research

External Sites:
-Institution of Mechanical Engineers
(Imperial College is not responsible for the content of these external internet sites)

For immediate use
Tuesday 22 February 2005

A prestigious award will return to the UK for the first time in 19 years this week, when Professor Hugh Spikes is presented with the tribology Gold Medal at Buckingham Palace on 24 February 2005.

The medal is awarded by the Tribology Trust, administered by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and recognises outstanding achievement in the field of tribology, an area of science focusing on the study of friction, wear and lubrication.

Professor Spikes, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College London, explains: "Tribology is the study of what happens when things rub together and it pervades our lives how to design more efficient car engines of course, but also quieter and safer tyres and roads, the design of hair conditioners, why silk feels smoother than wool, the eye blinking on a contact lens. Tribology is concerned with analysing and understanding all of these."

Professor Spikes is a world acknowledged expert in this field. His findings are routinely entered in text books and are widely used by the additive and manufacturing industry, while his close contact with industry means that his work quickly transfers to practice at the engineering level. An example of this is research carried out in the 1980s on the friction and wear properties of diesel fuel which played a key role in enabling the development of low sulphur fuels.

Tribology at Imperial is further recognised with the award of the Silver Medal to Dr Philippa Cann, a principal research fellow and one of the UKs leading experts in the field of grease lubrication. Her research focuses primarily on understanding lubrication mechanisms in rolling element bearings. She explains:

Despite the fundamental nature of this work, it has enormous practical importance for example, in contributing to the development of design tools to improve bearing performance and extend operating life. It also provides for the first time a scientific basis for grease selection and the optimisation of lubricant properties.

"Research into grease lubrication has been neglected in recent years, so it is a great encouragement that my work in this area has been recognised by the Tribology Trust."

Sir Richard Sykes, Rector of Imperial College London, says: "For an institution to attract just one of these medals would be a huge achievement. That both the Gold and the Silver have come to Imperial is a tribute to the innovative work being carried out by the tribology group, and is well deserved. Imperial aims to attract the worlds best researchers and teachers Hugh and Philippa exemplify that and I offer them my heartiest congratulations."

Professor H Peter Jost, Chairman of the Tribology Trust, administered by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, says: "The UK has now won the Gold Medal six times since it was established in 1972. We are delighted Professor Spikes has returned it to the UK and equally delighted that Dr Cann has won the Silver. It is an honour for Imperial College and UK tribology."

Professor Spikes, who previously won the Silver Medal in 1995, adds: "I am delighted for myself and Philippa its the first time that both medals have ever gone to the same research group in the same year, so everyone is very excited and pleased."

The tribology section within Imperials Department of Mechanical Engineering is one of the largest in the world, carrying out research into lubrication and into the mechanics, friction, wear, fatigue and damage of contacting mechanical components. Applications include helicopters, motor vehicles, industrial machinery and scientific instruments.

Photographs of Hugh Spikes and Philippa Cann are available. Images of Professor Spikes receiving his award from HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at Buckingham Palace will be available after the event.

For further information contact:

Abigail Smith
Imperial College London Press Office
Tel: 020 7594 6701

Rita Congera
Media Relations Executive, Institution of Mechanical Engineers
Tel: 020 7304 6877

Notes to editors:

About the Tribology Trust

The Awards Committee consists not of tribology experts but of very senior representatives of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the Institution of Electrical Engineers, the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, the Royal Aeronautical Society and the Department of Trade and Industry. The award is decided on the information contained in the nomination, together with that contained in the replies to confidential enquiries made by the Awards Secretariat, from past medal winners and other distinguished experts in the area of tribology.

The Tribology Gold Medal, the principal award of the Trust, was the idea of Sir Richard Otto Clarke, then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Technology, (inventor of the FT Index and the concept of the Marshall Plan). In 1968, an anonymous donor made £10,000 available for the furtherance of tribology. Sir Richard felt that rather than his Department's tribology activities using this money, it should serve a wider purpose.

About the Institution of Mechanical Engineering

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) has over 75,000 members in 120 countries. It represents mechanical engineers involved in a diversity of fields such as the automotive, rail, aerospace, medical, power and construction industries to name a few. For more information please log onto

About Imperial College London

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Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and management and delivers practical solutions that enhance the quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.