In 2014, the Department heard with great sadness of the sudden death of Professor Colin Besant FREng, while on holiday in Canada.
Emeritus Professor Besant obtained his Ph.D. from Imperial in 1966 for research in the field of Nuclear Reactor Engineering. He subsequently worked on pressurised water reactor design for nuclear submarines for Rolls Royce and Associates, after which he joined the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority as Senior Scientific Officer, working on the development of the Steam Generating Heavy Water Reactor at Winfrith Heath. He returned to Imperial as a Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering in 1968, researching, amongst other things, fast breeder reactors.
He was one of the first engineers in Europe to become involved in Computer Aided Design and Manufacture. His CAD work at the College pioneered the use of mini-computers in design applications and he built up a large research group working on engineering design and manufacturing systems. He was also deeply engaged in the work on industrial robots, CNC machine tools and flexible manufacturing in general. He was highly respected in Industry, which supported much of his group’s research and participated in the commercialisation of several spinout companies specialising in CAD and robotics. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1997 and a Professor of Computer Aided Manufacture in 1998.
In the early 1990s Professor Besant initiated new research into high-speed permanent magnet electric machines with applications in hybrid electric vehicles and distributed power generation. This technology was developed through a series of research projects and subsequently commercialised through Turbo Genset (now Turbo Power Systems), a spinout company producing advanced electric machines and power electronics.
After becoming the Emeritus Professor he remained active in the company, but he also devoted much of his time to supporting new British engineering companies. He remained passionate about Imperial College and he continued to support and encourage new research in the Mechanical Engineering and other Departments at the College. Throughout his career he has been an inspiration for numerous young engineers and researchers, many of whom have gone to become highly successful industrialists and entrepreneurs.
His enduring optimism, wisdom, good humour and support will be deeply missed by many in the Department and across the College. He had the ability to help those across the Department either starting out in their careers or more established staff to understand the ethos of the Department and what it is to be a member of the Mechanical Engineering Department.