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Joseph Patrick Roberts

It is sad to have to report that Professor Patrick Roberts, former professor and head of the department of ceramics, died on 28 October 2005.

Born in 1926, Professor Roberts initially read for part I of the natural sciences tripos at Cambridge. Called up for National Service in the RAF in 1945, he became a junior scientific officer in the department of metallurgy at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. He received his BA degree from Cambridge a year later. On completion of his National Service, he elected to remain at Farnborough rather than return to Cambridge, and to read for a degree in physics at the Chelsea College of Science and Technology on a part-time basis. He was awarded an External London BSc in 1949, by which time he had been promoted to scientific officer, becoming senior scientific officer in 1952.

During his time at Farnborough, Professor Roberts worked on research programmes to investigate the properties and potential of ceramic materials. These included studies of the fabrication and mechanical properties of sintered alumina, and of the thermal conductivity of ceramics. Helped by his background in solid-state physics, he was able to make valuable contributions to these subjects. He also investigated the diffusion of zinc in zinc oxide and in 1958 was awarded his PhD for this study by the University of London.

Professor Roberts came to Leeds in May 1957, as lecturer in ceramics in the then department of gas engineering and general fuel science with ceramics. He rapidly established himself as one of the leaders in the field of the new special ceramics being developed at the time for nuclear, electrical, electronics and high temperature mechanical engineering applications. He published extensively in the scientific journals, the originality and high standard of his research earning the admiration of the international ceramics community. He established flourishing research groups in several fields including solid-state diffusion in oxide ceramics and in silica glass, and the mechanical properties of ceramics; the studies on silica glass later assumed signal importance in the manufacture of glass fibres for optical communications. His work attracted substantial external funding and postgraduates from both this country and overseas.

Professor Roberts also significantly strengthened and broadened the teaching of ceramics at the undergraduate level; in addition, the extensive short courses programme he instituted for colleagues from industry and national research centres played a key role in advancing the exploitation of the new materials within the UK and the rest of Western Europe. The title and status of Reader was conferred on him in 1962.

At the beginning of 1966, ceramics was accorded independent departmental status by the University and Professor Roberts was appointed as the inaugural holder of the chair of ceramics and the first head of the department of ceramics. Under his guidance, the newly-independent department continued to thrive and its reputation to increase. Professor Roberts also played a full part in the collegiate affairs of the University, serving on a range of committees and the council of Devonshire Hall, and for many years as the Universitys representative on the governing body of Batley Grammar School. His membership of the committee on archaeology and the board of archaeological studies reflected his work to develop techniques to assist archaeologists. Externally, he sat on both the general council of the British Ceramic Society and the council of the Institute of Ceramics, and was secretary of the basic science section of the former. He was president of the Society from 1981 to 1983.

Having served the University with very considerable distinction for sixteen years, Professor Roberts resigned in September 1973, in order to take up a Chair at the University of Sheffield.

Professor Roberts is survived by his three sons, Frank, Paul and Mark.

Published: 10 November 2005