Whitehouse, a ‘Small’ Wonder

Professor Emeritus, David Whitehouse gives edex a macro view of nanometrology, his passion for research and learning from students

Published: 29th September 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th September 2014 09:58 PM   |  A+A-

Professor David Whitehouse is a name to reckon with in surface and nano-metrology (science of measurement at the nano level, which is useful when cutting raw materials into desired shape as in determining the size and length required) — theoretically and practically. He has a BSc in Physics, a PhD in Surface Tribology (science and engineering of interacting surfaces in relative motion) and a DSc in Metrology. He has published over 250 papers on surface and nano-metrology, holds 23 patents and has written six books, including Handbook of Surface Metrology and Handbook of Surface and Nanometrology. In 1979, he started the first Centre for Micro and Nano Engineering. And in 1990 he initiated the world’s first journal of Nanotechnology published by the Institute of Physics.

 The first 20 years of his career were spent in the industry, including 10 years as Chief Research Engineer at Taylor Hobson, United Kingdom. It was during this time here that he invented ‘phase corrected filters’. The story goes that “I began my professional career when I joined Taylor as a research engineer in 1960. It was being realised that surface finish could play an important role in controlling the manufacturing process. The roughness produced by the several manufacturing process such as grinding is very complicated. There were several issues in the processes, for instance chatter, which is produced when too much force is involved during machining. Crude electrical filters were used for separating these effects, which were not well understood and largely incompetent. It was important to properly analyse these filters so that their influence on the roughness signal could be predicted.”

Whitehouse’s ‘phase corrected filter’ removed distortions produced by the existing filters and enabled a proper separation of process and machine tool effects. He also says that this work on filters “led to a completely new set of parameters for surface roughness suited not only for process control but also predicting the functional behaviour of surfaces such as contact friction and wear.”

Whitehouse spent 23 years as Professor of Engineering Science at the University of Warwick, UK, for the last five of which he was Chief Scientist in the School of Engineering. During his time at Warwick, he was also a member of The Professorial Board, The Science Faculty Committee, the University Assembly and The Senate. Currently, he is Professor Emeritus of Engineering Science at Warwick, Consultant Professor at the University of Harbin, China, Visiting Professor at Tianjin, China and Visiting Professor at the Centre for Precision Technologies University of Huddersfield, UK.

However, phase corrected filters aren’t Whitehouse’ lone claim to fame — he invented the very first optical method using diffraction for examining surfaces for in-situ process control and worked on the world’s first electronic spirit level (used for overhead measurements).  Commenting on his research, he says, “I have concentrated much of my research on the implications of miniaturisation and its effects on the manufacture, the performance and the metrology of small objects. My work has revealed that as the scale of size reduces, just about everything about the work piece changes, and this revelation means that engineering at the small scale is completely different to that at the macro or traditional scale.”

Having had a taste of both research and teaching, it is the former that interests him much, “Research is where my enthusiasm lies and this is what inspires students, not the regurgitation of known facts, no matter how well done. An inspired student will hunt for knowledge and not sit back and expect it to be fed to him or her!” Whitehouse is full of praise for his students, “I have always enjoyed my interaction with students at all levels from undergraduate to PhD. I always learn from them.” But it saddens him that today’s students are a distracted lot because of television, social media, etc. “Teaching that will have a lasting impact is the solution,” he says. He tunes into music and is into fitness for leisure.

Whitehouse has delivered lectures in 37 countries and has received many honours and prizes including the Joseph Whitworth Prize, The James Clayton Prize, the Commemorative Medallion for Advanced Technology; Mendeleev Institute of Metrology St Petersburg (formerly Leningrad), Russia (twice), a SERC Senior Fellowship, The Callendar Prize ‘For Outstanding Contribution to Metrology’, a Lifetime Achievement Award for World Class Metrology: ‘Champion of Metrology’ from the National Physical Laboratory, and in a recent award for a long and distinguished career, the American Society of Precision Engineers described Professor Whitehouse as the ‘Father of Digital  Metrology’. He is the holder of the 2012 General Pierre Nicolau Award from the International Academy of Production Engineering, conferred for ‘Significant and Distinguished Scientific Contribution to the field of Production Engineering’. His message for future leaders is “Engineering of the future will have to take into account, the profound changes in design, manufacture and metrology.” He plans to conduct more research in Metrology and Tribology.


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