Peter John Lawrenson, Emeritus Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Leeds has won this year’s prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering Sir Frank Whittle Medal.

This year it has been awarded for ‘engineering innovations in energy’ and this is only the fifth time the medal has been bestowed.

It is presented to Professor Lawrenson to recognise his generally applicable design methologies and the development of electrical machines used worldwide, including the invention and commercialisation of switched reluctance drives.

As a leading world expert in electrical and electromagnetic devices, he has made contributions in many diverse fields, but is best known and respected for his work on reluctance machines of all types but particularly the invention, development and commercialisation of switched reluctance drives.

Largely unnoticed, but ubiquitous, electrical machines are crucial for life throughout the developed world and the only radically new electrical machine since the induction motor is the switched reluctance machine. It exploits the physical truth that purely magnetic forces can exceed electromagnetic forces which translates in practical terms to significantly higher power outputs, efficiencies, speeds and reliabilities.

With these advantages, and a computer brain incorporated as an integral element, it is able to satisfy an unusually wide range of applications. These span from the convenience of household appliances, such as washing machines and vacuum cleaners, to the rigours of deep mining; from manufacturing machines such as weaving machines to refined laboratory apparatus; from pumping all our oil and water to its numerous duties in transportation vehicles. They are also providing the way forward for topical developments in various forms of electric automobiles and in most applications they can bring significant energy savings and environmental benefits.

Professor Lawrenson, will receive his medal at the Academy Awards Dinner in London on Thursday 2 June.

Notes for editors

  1. The Royal Academy of Engineering Sir Frank Whittle Medal reflects the spirit of the late Sir Frank Whittle OM KBE CB FEng FRS, one of the most creative engineers of all time. This medal is ‘awarded to an engineer, with strong connections with the United Kingdom, for outstanding and sustained achievement which has contributed to the well-being of the nation.’
  2. This is only the fifth time that the Whittle Medal has been awarded – the first in 2001 went to the creator of the world-wide web, Professor Tim Berners-Lee OBE FREng FRS for his achievements in communication, and in 2002 to Professor John Ffowcs Williams FREng for his for dedication to understanding the properties of sound, which has enabled huge innovation in international transport.
  3. Frank Whittle was born in Coventry in 1907, the son of a skilful mechanic and inventor. From an early age he experimented in his father’s factory and was fascinated by the fledgling aviation industry. He joined the RAF in 1923 as an apprentice. His talents were soon recognised and he qualified as a pilot at the RAF College, Cranwell, before reading Mechanical Sciences at the University of Cambridge. While at Cranwell he had developed a thesis on jet propulsion and patented his design in 1930, but officials at the Air Ministry dismissed his ideas as impractical. However, in 1936 he and some associates founded a company, Power Jets Ltd, to develop the theory. Despite political and financial adversity, Whittle’s jet engine made its maiden flight on 15 May 1941, powering the purpose-built Gloster E28/39. By 1944 the engine was in service with the RAF. The technology quickly spread and has been fully exploited worldwide.
  4. The Sir Frank Whittle Medal for 2006 will be awarded for ‘engineering in entertainment’.
  5. Founded in 1976, the Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship - comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers - provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Dr Claire McLoughlin at the Royal Academy of Engineering