Department of Materials


Professor Rachel Thomson BA, MA, PhD, FIMMM, FREng

Photo of Professor Rachel Thomson

Professor of Materials Engineering

Pro Vice Chancellor for Teaching


Rachel read for a degree in Natural Sciences at Newnham College, Cambridge University between 1986 and 1989, specialising in Physics. She then carried out her PhD in the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, also at Cambridge, between 1989 and 1992. For the following 3 years she held the position of Research Fellow in the same department, supported by SERC (now EPSRC) and Rolls-Royce plc. Between 1993 and 1995 she was awarded a non-stipendiary Research Fellowship at Darwin College, Cambridge University. In 1995, Rachel moved to a lectureship in the Materials department at Loughborough University, being promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1999 and to a Personal Chair in 2002. She became the Director of the Materials Research School, one of 5 multidisciplinary Research Schools in the University, in September 2006 and from December 2013 was the Research Challenge Leader for the "Enabling  Technologies" research challenge, one of the six overarching research challenges adopted by the University. Rachel became Head of the Department of Materials in 2011, from May 2014, becoming Dean of the School of Aeronautical, Automotive, Chemical and Materials Engineering (AACME) and from September 2016 was appointed Pro Vice Chancellor for Teaching. In September 2018 Rachel was elected as a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.


  • BA and MA  Honours degree in Natural Sciences, Physics and Theoretical Physics, Newnham College, Cambridge University, II(i), 1989 (BA) and 1992 (MA)
  • PhD Cambridge University, 1992, "Carbide Composition Changes in Power Plant Steels as a Method of Remanent Creep Prediction", SERC CASE with National Power
  • FIMMM Fellow of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, 2009

Key Awards:

  • Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, FREng, 2018
  • Rosenhain Medal, Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, 2005
  • Fellowship from the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science, 2003
  • E.W. Müeller Outstanding Young Scientist Medal, 42nd International Field Emission Symposium, 1995


Outline of main research interests:

  • The development of models to enable the prediction of microstructure and mechanical property evolution in metal alloys as a function of the initial processing and also subsequent service
  • Development of new alloys and coatings, and understanding of degradation mechanisms for steels, superalloys, cast irons and Al-Si alloys
  • Experimental characterisation using advanced techniques.

Grants and contracts:

Grants in excess of £8.8M awarded (EPSRC, government and industry) in the last 5 years, highlights include:

  • --EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training: Carbon Capture and Storage and Cleaner Fossil Energy, in partnership with Nottingham, Leeds and Birmingham Universities, 2009-2022
  • --Flexible and efficient power plant: Flex-E-Plant, EPSRC, 2013-2018
  • --Performance of Grade 91/92 steels, EPRI, USA, 2011-2015
  • --Quantitative Metallography of pressure vessel steels, Rolls-Royce plc, 2012-2015
  • --Innovative materials, design and monitoring of power plant, TSB, 2010-2013


Current teaching responsibilities:

  • TTD105 - Propulsion design for the environment

Current administrative responsibilities:

  • Pro Vice Chancellor for Teaching
  • Research Challenge Leader for Enabling Technologies
  • Director of the Materials Research School
  • Member of Department Management Advisory Group (Finance Advisor)
  • Member of Department Research Committee
  • Member of University Council

Recent publications: 

30 journal and refereed conference papers have been published in the last 5 years, including:

  • Li, L., MacLachlan, R. C., Jepson, M. A. E., & Thomson, R. C. (2013). Microstructural Evolution of Boron Nitride Particles in Advanced 9Cr Power Plant Steels. Metallurgical and Materials Transactions A: Physical Metallurgy and Materials Science, 44(7), 3411-3418.
  • Karunaratne, M. S. A., Di Martino, I., Ogden, S. L., Oates, D. L., & Thomson, R. C. (2012). Modeling of Microstructural Evolution in an MCrAlY Overlay Coating on Different Superalloy Substrates. Metallurgical and Materials Transactions A, 43A(2), 774-788.
  • Child, D. J., West, G. D., & Thomson, R. C. (2012). The use of combined three-dimensional electron backscatter diffraction and energy dispersive X-ray analysis to assess the characteristics of the gamma/gamma-prime microstructure in alloy 720Li™. Ultramicroscopy, 114, 1-10.
  • Child, D. J., West, G. D., & Thomson, R. C. (2011). Assessment of surface hardening effects from shot peening on a Ni-based alloy using electron backscatter diffraction techniques. Acta Materialia, 59(12), 4825-4834.
  • Karunaratne, M., Ogden, S. L., Kenny, S. D., & Thomson, R. C. (2009). A Mulitcomponent Diffusion Model for the Prediction of Microstructural Evolution in Coated Ni-based Superalloy Systems. Materials Science and Technology, 25((2)), 287-299.

 View central publications database


External Collaborators: 

  • Universities of Cardiff, Cranfield, Imperial College, Nottingham, Southampton and Warwick, UK
  • National Institute for Materials Science, Japan
  • Alstom Power Ltd.
  • EDF
  • E.On UK
  • Doosan Babcock Energy Ltd.
  • Goodwin Steel Castings
  • NPL
  • Rolls-Royce plc
  • RWE npower
  • Siemens.

External roles and appointments:

  • High Temperature Materials and Surface Engineering Committees of the Institute of Materials
  • --EPSRC Peer Review College and frequent UK and international panel member
  • --Member of EPSRC Strategic Advisory Team External Examiner for BEng Materials Engineering at Swansea University (2008-2011) and Cambridge (2014-)
  • --Member of NPL Materials Advisory Group (2011-)
  • --Assessor for Helmholtz Association, Germany
  • Chair of the M5 Universities Operations Group