Graham Waters (Physics 1962) is the founder of Airbond – the experts in the science of fibre splicing and its applications. In June 2019, Airbond received their second Queen's Award for Innovation, the UK's highest accolade for business success, for their Carbon Splicer units. 

Previously, splicing carbon or glass fibres with compressed air turned them to dust as they were so brittle, even though strong longitudinally. Airbond invested in research that led to unique machines which for the first time spliced modern composite materials. We caught up with Graham to find out more about his company and his time at Imperial.

What did you learn during your time at Imperial, in class or out?

That my mathematics wasn’t good enough for me to be a “proper” physicist.

Can you tell us about your studies at Imperial?

Having discovered my limitations as a physicist, I decided that there was insufficient formal education in the grey areas between disciplines. I consider myself a failure as a scientist, but a decent innovator applying technical disciplines. Can you teach innovation as a subject? Now there’s a conundrum.

Who did you find inspiring at Imperial and why?

Harold Hopkins – whose breadth of vision and multiple talents, contributing to physics and medicine, were admirable. (As was his taste for gin). Later, Dr Harold Allen – who became a friend much later in life, when our families became linked. His passion for the arts improved the lives of young philistine students.

What is your fondest memory of your time here?

Running underground through the Commonwealth Institute from the old RCS building to the Union, past dusty pipes and wiring – an illicit but innocent pleasure.

What is your favourite place at Imperial and why?

The old Science Museum library – a sense of past glories.

Tell us a bit about the work you’re doing now...

I'm still working, way beyond conventional retirement age. I am profoundly stimulated by being active in innovation for the growing composites market. Two Queen’s Awards for innovation give my small team a sense of achievement. 

Splicing is a mature technology which had stagnated for decades. At Airbond, we have catapulted it into the 21st century. Get it wrong and you will waste a lot of product, transforming fibres into dust. However, we have invested heavily in R&D to get it right, and we are really pleased at the recognition of this second Award.

What does a typical day look like for you now?

I’m still a student at heart – if a geriatric one. My typical day involves ruminating, scribbling on work-pads – and firing up one of my 3d printers.

What are your plans for the future?

One more industry-changing product development before retirement.

What would be your advice for current students?

Firstly, it’s likely that you’ll make a career in a discipline far removed from your first degree. Secondly, don’t panic. You can become a true expert in a subject in about 10,000 hours – so it’s possible to be a leader in more than one field in your life.

What makes you proud to be an Imperial alumnus?

Respect from my peers.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

The best thing I can do is to quote the attitude to Imperial of the late-lamented Sir Roger Bannister. I met him when he was Master of Pembroke College Oxford. Leaning over the rail of Pembroke College’s boathouse, I was watching my son rowing. The tall figure of Bannister loomed up behind me. After some pleasantries, he asked me when I had attended Pembroke. I said that I hadn’t. His mood darkened. I responded, “I went to Imperial”.

His reply – “Oh, that’s all right then”. And he offered me a beer.

Find out more about Airbond by visiting their website: You can also follow them onTwitterFacebook and LInkedIn.