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Thursday 14 July 2005


Professor Duncan Dowson

Public Orator, Professor Steve Rothberg presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Ceremony held on Thursday 14 July 2005 at 10.30am

Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, new graduates, ladies and gentlemen

The purpose of an honorary degree is to recognise outstanding and sustained contributions; sometimes for excellence in research, sometimes for the advancement of a profession, sometimes for a lifetime’s commitment for the benefit of society in general. In the case of Professor Duncan Dowson, this award is merited 3 times over.

Those of you in the front rows will know that we do not give our Loughborough degrees away lightly and, while I do claim to hold Duncan in the highest possible regard, I cannot claim that we have been quick off the mark to honour him. Duncan became an external professor in my department in 2001, 26 years after his first such appointment at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. And when he receives his honorary doctorate in a few moments, we will be 26 years behind Chalmers University in Sweden who gave Duncan the first of his honorary doctorates.

What we are recognising today, however, is an important Golden Anniversary. Typically, it is not Duncan’s first Golden Anniversary – we were beaten to this one by Duncan’s wife Mabel who is here today to join our celebration. But we are, I hope, the first to acknowledge the 50 years, actually a little over now, since Duncan’s academic career began as a lecturer at the University of Leeds.

Duncan Dowson is a tribologist. You may not know quite what a tribologist does and may currently be entertaining notions of remote civilisations and far-off lands. But let me bring you back to the industrialised world because tribology is the study of friction, wear and lubrication.

Thanks to tribologists, devices from car engines to computer hard drives run ever more smoothly and reliably. When a Formula 1 driver’s Sunday afternoon terminates prematurely in a puff of smoke, it is to their tribologist that they must turn for salvation. When the late Sir John Charnley was developing the total hip replacement in the 1960’s, it was to our tribologist, Professor Dowson, that he turned - much to the delight of the 50,000 people now receiving hip replacements each year in the UK.

While engaged in such a prolific research career, Duncan still found time to be Head of Department, Dean and Pro-Vice Chancellor at Leeds, as well as Deputy President and ultimately President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers … and much more. In return, the science and engineering community rightly found time to make him Honorary Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Life Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineers and Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1989, he received a CBE.

The immense value of his work has resulted in prestigious awards from so many respected bodies in the UK, Europe and the US. In 2001, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers awarded Duncan the James Watt International Gold Medal. The citation states: ‘to an engineer, of any nationality, deemed worthy of the highest award that a mechanical engineer can receive’.

Therefore, Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you, and to the whole University, Professor Duncan Dowson CBE, a truly distinguished engineer, for the degree of DOCTOR OF SCIENCE, honoris causa.


Loughborough University - Degree Speeches 2005, July 2005
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