Professor Graham Wood, DSc, FREng, FRS (1934-2016)

Graham Wood was born in Farnborough, Kent, England (some 15 miles south east of London, then a small village adjacent to open countryside) and became a towering figure in the somewhat arcane subject that we know of as corrosion science.

Professor Graham Wood, DSc, FREng, FRS (1934-2016)

Graham’s parents had met at Down House, the former home of Charles Darwin, while it was being run as a school. Graham later ascribed his interest in science to childhood visits to Down House after it had become the Darwin museum. As a child he attended the local village school, walked and explored the nearby woods and fields, and helped in his parent’s large garden. This early experience developed his lifelong love of hiking and for the vegetables and soft fruit that he grew in his allotment. His parents continued to live in the family home until their deaths and Graham always ensured that he was there to put up the runner bean sticks at the start of the season, to take them down at the end, and to walk in the surrounding fields that he loved. At the age of 11, Graham attended the Bromley Grammar School excelling at cricket and football as well as academically. He obtained a state scholarship to attend Christs’ College, Cambridge University, the first of his family to attend university, where he graduated in Natural Sciences and narrowly failed to obtain a “blue” (i.e. represent the University) in cricket. He subsequently undertook a PhD with T.P. (Sam) Hoar, collaborated with Ulick Evans and continued as a postdoctoral researcher with Alan Cottrell. He met his wife Freda in Cambridge in 1958 while she was working as a teacher and subsequently moved to the then University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) in 1961 as Lecturer in Corrosion Science in the Dept. of Chemical Engineering. Since Freda’s family home was in Bolton, just north of Manchester, it has never been clear whether this move was a result of careful planning or mere serendipity.

The UMIST Chemical Engineering department was run in those days by Professor T.K. (Ken) Ross, who recognised early in his career that corrosion and materials degradation of chemical plant was a major threat to operations and so built up a strong research group in corrosion science, rivalling the then activity at Cambridge. When the “Committee on Corrosion and Protection” under Sam Hoar published its findings in 1971, one of its main recommendations was the establishment of a “National Corrosion and Protection Centre”. Ken Ross immediately saw this as an opportunity for Manchester and strongly supported Graham’s appointment in 1972 at Britain’s first Professor of Corrosion Science with a remit to establish and grow an academic-based “Corrosion and Protection Centre”. From 1972 to 1982 Graham built this up to a steady state of around ten academic (faculty) staff with associated support staff, with the MSc programme in Corrosion Science and Engineering (established earlier in 1961) feeding into PhD research. He also set up CAPCIS (now part of Intertek), under the direction of David Gearey, when it became apparent that the demand from industry for consultancy services far exceeded the capacity of academic staff to deliver. In the early days of CAPCIS, an enquiry on a high temperature corrosion problem appeared from one of the larger chemical processing companies and Graham was invited by David to attend the initial site meeting. While Graham had extensive academic experience and an enviable publishing track record he did not, at that time, have a great deal of industrial experience. Evidently somewhat daunted by the size of the plant as they approached the main gates, Graham quietly asked David to: “just call me Mr. Wood”. From that day onwards Graham was always referred to affectionately within CAPCIS as “Mr. Wood”.

As Head of the Corrosion and Protection Centre, Graham was a demanding taskmaster on colleagues but even more so on himself. Famously in January one year, he circulated a set of typewritten memos (no emails in those days) where he insisted that his secretary dated them 25th December “because that’s when I wrote them”. However, away from the direct focus of work he always had time on a personal basis for even the most junior of technical staff ensuring that he was on first name terms with everyone who contributed to his work. From Manchester he kick-started, mentored and supported the careers of innumerable people and was in touch with a world-wide network of corrosionists. After 1982 Graham increasingly took a back seat in the day-to-day operations of the Corrosion and Protection Centre and focussed more on academic administration while ensuring that he kept his hand in guiding and mentoring research students and directing novel research. When I arrived in Manchester in 1983, he was Vice-Principal for Academic Development and over the years to his retirement in 1999 served in various roles up to Dean of Faculty and finally Deputy Principal.

Amongst all of this work his family, and his cricket, still remained a passion and he was a stalwart of the annual staff-student match where his ambition was to smash the clubhouse clock by hitting a six. During one of his overseas trips a chance remark led to the Corrosion and Protection Centre 20th Anniversary conference as the excuse for a reunion cricket match with former students. The match was held, by special permission of the His Grace the Duke of Devonshire, at the cricket ground of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. While history has failed to record the final score the conference was the most successful ever held in Europe at that time with over 500 delegates.

This is not the place to list all his achievements (academic or otherwise) and his collaborators however, February 1934 was clearly an auspicious time for his subject since Graham, Bob Rapp and Roger Staehle were all both born within a few weeks of each other. He was a principal consultant to the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in collaboration with John Stringer for many years and was the first Chair from outside North America of the Gordon Research Conference on Corrosion. He spent two periods as President of the predecessor bodies to the UK Institute of Corrosion and was Chair of the International Corrosion Council for many years. His most notable work at Manchester was carried out in collaboration with Howard Stott (in oxidation and hot corrosion) and George Thompson (in passivity and the properties of anodic films). Amongst other prizes and awards, he received the Beilby Medal and Prize from the Society of Chemical Industry in 1972 and in 1983 was presented with the U.R. Evans award of the Institute of Corrosion. In the same year he obtained the Carl Wagner Memorial Award of the Electrochemical Society and was appointed a Life Member. In 1990, he was elected to the Fellowship of Engineering (now the Royal Academy of Engineering) as FREng and in 1997 the European Federation of Corrosion presented Graham with its premier prize, the Cavallaro Medal. Finally, and following on from Davy, Faraday, Bengough and Evans, in 1997 Graham was elected to Fellowship of the Royal Society (FRS) the highest UK scientific honour.

Rather unassuming, intensely private, but unfeasibly talented, Graham was a true “gentlemen scientist”. His passing deserves reflection on a life well lived.

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