Letter: From basic science to Boardman's bike

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Sir: The well-deserved acclaim of the cyclist Chris Boardman, his machine, the prototype designer Mick Burrows, and Richard Hill and his colleagues at Lotus Engineering, is reminiscent of the enthusiasm of the whole population in Victorian times for science and invention as well as athletic

prowess. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm for science is something of a rarity in the United Kingdom now.

The engineering of the bicycle has been given its due recognition, but it should not be forgotten that this innovative design would not have been possible without the novel materials from which it is constructed: the strong, stiff carbon fibres invented in the Sixties by the small team of researchers at RAF Farnborough under the direction of the late Dr William Watt (with whom the present writers were closely associated in many different ways).

It was only one of three major innovations by this team in the area of high-performance carbon materials, and was the culmination of many years of painstaking basic scientific experimentation. It was, of course, no coincidence that such productive basic science for long-term objectives rather than quick profit was pursued at Farnborough: such work in government laboratories had been vital during the Second World War, but now it is almost non-existent, even in universities, because of successive financial cutbacks and a lack of understanding of the need for on-going basic science.

Yours faithfully,

B. RAND, Professor of Ceramics, School of Materials, University of Leeds; G. R. RIGBY, Former Assistant Director of British Ceramic Research Association; J. P. ROBERTS, Emeritus Professor of Ceramics, University of Sheffield

The University of Leeds


31 July