Professor Helen Atkinson CBE FREng, a Fellow, Vice President and Trustee of the Royal Academy of Engineering, will describe how to make metal alloys that can be cut like butter when she delivers the first Royal Academy of Engineering East Midlands Lecture, to be held at the University of Loughborough this Wednesday 13 May.

During the event, Professor Atkinson will explain how a known property of ketchup can also be shown by metal alloys and exploited to improve the manufacturing process for metallic components such as car parts.

Ketchup behaves as a thixotropic material; it is thick under static conditions but flows easily when shaken. Other thixotropic materials behave in the opposite way, hardening under stress. In a similar way, some metal alloys acquire thixotropic properties if they are stirred while being heated, and start flowing below their melting temperature.

The material can then be cast into a die and, thanks to its low viscosity and temperature,  flows with less turbulence and traps fewer air bubbles, conditions that can lead to defects in the structure.

Even more conveniently, some metallic thixotropic materials can be stored by stirring the material while heating it and then continuing to stir it as it solidifies. When reheated, the material retains its new properties without needing to be stirred again.

Ahead of the event, Professor Atkinson said: “I am honoured to be giving this lecture. I am looking forward to introducing people to the fascinating technology of semi-solid processing and its applications.”

Professor Atkinson is Head of the Department of Engineering at the University of Leicester and was made CBE in the New Year’s Honours list 2014 for her services to Engineering and Education. In 2011, she was elected as the first woman President of the Engineering’ Professors Council in its 50-year history.

Professor Steve Rothberg, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) at Loughborough University, said: “We are delighted to welcome Professor Atkinson to the University for the Royal Academy of Engineering inaugural East Midlands Regional Lecture. The Academy provides leadership and promotes excellence across all fields of engineering, to the benefit of society, and it is an honour to be hosting this event.”

Notes for editors

  1. The lecture will be held at the Wolfson lecture theatre, University of Loughborough, Epinal Way, Loughborough LE11 3TU

    To book a place or for further details about the lecture, please visit our website at 

    An interview with Professor Atkinson about thixotropic materials can be found on our magazine Ingenia.
  2. Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK's national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering.

    We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK's role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK's world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering.

    We are a national academy with a global outlook. We have four strategic challenges: Drive faster and more balanced economic growth; foster better education and skills; lead the profession; promote engineering at the heart of society.
  3. Loughborough University. Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

    It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, putting it among the best universities in the world, and was named Sports University of the Year 2013-14 by The Times and Sunday Times. Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and has been voted England's Best Student Experience for six years running in the Times Higher Education league. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

    In 2015 the University will open an additional academic campus in London’s new innovation quarter. Loughborough University in London, based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, will offer postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities.

For more information please contact

Giorgio De Faveri at the Royal Academy of Engineering
T: 0207 766 0655
E: Giorgio De Faveri

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