Ron Conway / Inspiring by example

Words by Suzanne Ross

Image by David Gennard

Fifteen years ago, a retired materials engineer was inspired to return to full-time study. It’s now his turn to inspire, mentoring the next generation of scientists and engineers at Manchester.

Deep in the heart The University of Manchester’s historic Sackville Building, Roy Conway is thinking back to the moment that set him on his path here.

“I met my PhD supervisor Professor Prasad Potluri 15 years ago when we worked on a project together with Bentley to make a carbon-fibre composites machine,” he recalls.

At the age of 72, Roy is the oldest full-time PhD student in Manchester’s Faculty of Science and Engineering. After nearly 50 years of working in the textile industry, he’s now sharing his wealth of knowledge with the experts of the future, coalescing his industrial knowledge and experience with the University’s current research into advanced materials such as graphene.

Back to university

“Prasad and I kept in contact and he asked what my plans were after retirement, as he felt I could act as a mentor to postgraduate students,” he continues.

“I started mentoring and this led to delivering guest lectures on subjects such as textile finishing, coating, flocking and embossing.

The application of textile coatings is a specialised field, and often industrial practices are not well documented, so students do find my lectures a valuable addition to their studies.

“I love being a mentor. I want to pass my unique knowledge and expertise on. It shouldn’t be lost.”

“Roy’s lectures and mentoring give our students a seamless transition between study and industry,” adds Professor Potluri. “I believe what we do here in the Robotics and Textile Composites Group should have a tangible impact on our students, society, and the industries we work with.”

When Professor Potluri suggested Roy should consider studying for a PhD, Roy was sceptical. “I said: ‘You’re having a laugh aren’t you?’ But Prasad said I should seriously consider it, so the next decision was whether I should study fulltime or part-time.

“When I discussed it with my wife Pat, she said: ‘I think you should choose full-time.’ When I asked her why, she said: “Well, then you’ll be out of my way most of the week!’

“But seriously, my family have been very supportive and I’m following in the footsteps of three of my four daughters who also studied at Manchester.”

Original thinking

Roy’s considerable knowledge and expertise is having a broad impact, helping to develop the application of novel coating formulations to textile materials.

He has developed a bespoke machine from scratch that can apply such coatings to dimensionally stable woven carbon-fibre materials.

“The machine’s concept could possibly be used in automotive, aerospace, maritime and wind turbine applications, to increase the strength and damage tolerance of the materials with a minimal increase in weight in comparison to techniques currently used,” explains Roy, who had to learn 3D computer aided design drawing to bring his ideas to life.

Roy’s grateful to Professor Potluri for his support and it’s easy to see the mutual respect they have for each other, forged from their common interests and travels worldwide together, interwoven with the cooperative environment within the department.

“I’ve had to make lots of adjustments for my studies, but Prasad, and indeed everyone at the University, has been incredibly supportive,” he affirms.

“I certainly don’t want to give up after I’ve finished my PhD. I’d like to continue working with students and industry, using my considerable experience to develop new ideas and ways of working, including the incorporation of materials such as graphene into industrial applications.”


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