#MondayMaterials Episode 11 – Professor Stuart Lyon
Meet the School 26th October 2015
Welcome back, everyone – and thanks for continuing to follow the series.
I was introduced to this week’s interviewee by Delia Vazquez, a previous #MondayMaterials star. In fact, she introduced me to a whole host of people during a recent School of Materials coffee morning, so you can expect to hear this story again and again.
Professor Stuart Lyon was one of the most interesting people I met that morning, and I was particularly intrigued when he told me what it was he was researching. It’s something we encounter every single day, but after talking to Stuart I’ll now always think of it in a very different way. Find out what it is in the interview below:
Hi Stuart, thanks for joining us. We’ll start with the easy one! Can you please explain your research, for the layman, in ten sentences or less?I research on paint, essentially – I’m Professor of Coating Technology, which is essentially paint; Professor of Paint. Except Professor of Paint sounds a bit trite and silly, but nonetheless it’s a very important commodity.
The kind of paint I work with is not the stuff that’s on the walls; this is decorating around here – decorating. I work on what we call industrial protective coatings for ships, for cars, for planes, for infrastructure, pipelines, things like that. And that sort of thing is a very high technology product, to provide corrosion protection for many, many years without interference.
That’s basically it. Some of the older viewers might remember cars which, bought in the 60s and 70s, used to rust to bits in just a few years. And now they last. They have warranties for ten/fifteen years, anti-perforation warranties in the bodies. That’s all to do with coatings, corrosion protection.
It saves a lot of money, as well.
Who knew paint could be so important! Could you tell us a bit more about how your research benefits the public?
Corrosion as a materials damage process has been calculated to cost between 2-3% of GPM per annum in industrialised economies with big infrastructures. That’s quite difficult for the layman to understand. But if you use a straight line depreciation, which is economically not correct, at 3% per annum, it means that everything that you have and have built has no economic value after between 30 and 40 years – only due to corrosion.
So you can imagine deterioration of window frames, deterioration of buildings, cars, ships, etc – even deterioration of your mobile phone where it’s affected by the humidity in your pocket and all the greasy paws that you stick all over it. So that’s what I do; the anti-corrosion and the coatings that help to reduce the economic loss of these materials. The value to the economy is phenomenal.
One of the world’s largest paint companies is based in the UK and I work extensively with them in the development of novel protective coatings for a wide range of applications in the home and in industry.
And how did you first get interested in your research area?
Well, I started here in Manchester more than 30 years ago. I got interested in corrosion – it was serendipity in a sense: there just happened to be a job available in this area. So I took it. It was a time of economic depression at the time and there weren’t very many jobs, so I took it. I became interested in it, and I stayed in Manchester. The opportunity was there.
My academic background is as a metallurgist, a materials scientist metallurgist. Corrosion is an aspect of metallurgy, a rather unique aspect, which encompasses putting together aspects of chemistry, aspects of physics, and aspects of materials science. So the combination of those subjects together, I find fascinating.
How I got into paint – well, one of my colleagues who is now sadly deceased, David Scantlebury, was here at the time. He was a fantastic teacher, he won many teaching awards, he was a great researcher for the same company that I now work with, and I used to work with him. It was really good fun working with him. And the subject was just fascinating.
So everyone says watching paint dry is boring – it’s not! It’s not boring and it saves a lot of money!
That’s a great answer, thank you! Going back a little further, maybe, was there anyone or anything that first inspired your interests in science and engineering?Well that would be at school I guess. Or, in fact, my dad was an engineer. He was a mechanical engineer. He used to tell me, whatever you do don’t be an engineer. And my mother wanted me to be a doctor but I hate the sight of blood, so that was no good either.
But my dad, although he didn’t want me to be an engineer, was forever tinkering with his motor car and he wanted my little fingers, as a small child, to hold onto these nuts and bolts so that he could tighten them up. And I guess that’s where it came from, really. A fascination for mechanical things – and for materials things.
My father tells a story where they moved into the new house and I promptly took the doorknobs off all the doors to find out how they worked. So I guess it was ingrained to begin with from a very early age.
And the science subjects I learnt at school I always found very fascinating.
Moving away from work, then – could you tell us what else you like to do? What do you get up to in your spare time?
Before I had a child I used to be very interested in hill walking, photography, cycling – outdoor pursuits really. Gardening; even DIY. As a Professor of Paint, I have been known to paint my own house; although it’s not the kind of paint that I’m interested in in a professional context.
At the University I knew a bunch of friends who were very into rambling, youth hostelling, etc, and I kept in contact with them over the years. We’d meet up once or twice every two or three years and go walking on the hills, etc – drinking lots of beer, and then drinking even more beer.
But now I have a small child. It’s my first child and I’m quite an old father, but our first is now two and a bit. Most of my spare time is spent organising her, really, and organising her life. And being exhausted by her, I would say!
Well, that sounds very tiring but rewarding! Do you come into work for a rest? And on that note, how has being here in Manchester benefited your work and research?I came here thirty years ago when it was UMIST and the Victoria University of Manchester and those two universities together had both good collaboration and a good competitive spirit. And it was right that they joined together because the result is greater than the sum of the two parts, I think.
But within UMIST when I joined, and now in the School of Materials, the entity, the division I joined, is called the Corrosion Protection Centre. This is the western world’s, and possibly the world’s, largest academic entity studying this subject, corrosion science.
So from the perspective of the subject I’m interested in from a research area, corrosion, protective coatings, paints, etc, in most other universities and most other commercial entities, they’re done by one or two people. Here, we have a whole group of people doing the same thing. It’s a really good competitive atmosphere, a really good collaborative atmosphere. It’s a critical mass which allows us to do the research properly. It allows us to leverage the assets of the University in terms of equipment; fancy equipment that we need to characterise these materials.
And I guess that because it’s such an unusual subject the fact that the universities, the former UMIST and the current university, support the academic activity that we’re involved with is extremely helpful to us.
It’s beneficial, it provides a unique selling point for the School, and we do a significant fraction of the School’s total research within this division. And in collaboration with the other research groups in the School.
So we’re very pleased; it’s a very useful place to be.
That’s fantastic, Stuart – thank you! Who knew that paint could be so interesting, and so important!
Well, that’s it for this week. But we’re only two weeks away from our chat with Dr Chris Blanford, so make sure you come back for that.
See you soon.