Department of Engineering / News / In memory of Professor David Newland, 1936-2020

Department of Engineering

In memory of Professor David Newland, 1936-2020

In memory of Professor David Newland, 1936-2020

Professor David Newland and his wife Patricia

The Department announces with deep sadness the death of Emeritus Professor David Newland, who has died aged 84. He was Head of Department (1996-2002), a Fellow of Selwyn College and he served as a Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University (1999-2003).

David Newland used his exceptional mind to become an international authority on everything to do with vibration from its analysis and control to its catastrophic effect in accidents. His guidance was sought repeatedly by government on the recommendation of his colleagues who recognised his unequalled expertise.

Lord Alec Broers

David Edward Newland was born in Knebworth, UK, in 1936.  Having been Head Boy at Alleyne’s Grammar School, Stevenage, he went on to study Mechanical Sciences (predecessor of the Engineering course) at Selwyn College, Cambridge (1954-57).  He graduated at the top of the year, winning the Rex Moir and Ricardo prizes.

Following four years with The English Electric Company, Newland moved to the USA to join MIT as a teaching instructor, whilst completing his PhD under the supervision of JP Den Hartog.  He submitted his thesis in 1963 on nonlinear vibrations: a comparative study with application to centrifugal pendulum vibration absorbers.  This led to his promotion to Assistant Professor before returning to the UK in 1964 as a Lecturer at Imperial College, London.  After three years at Imperial, having just turned 31 years old, he was appointed Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Sheffield University, a post which he held for nine years.  

In 1976 Newland returned to Cambridge as Professor of Engineering, where he remained for the rest of his academic career.  His many substantial contributions to the Department of Engineering included: serving as head of the Mechanics, Materials and Design Division; helping to establish the Manufacturing Engineering course (1979), the Engineering Design Centre (1992) and the four-year Engineering course (1992); and serving as Head of Department (1996-2002) and as a Director of the Cambridge-MIT Institute (1999-2002).  Newland was also active in the wider University, being a Fellow of Selwyn College and serving as a Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University (1999-2003).

Newland 's principal research interest was vibration analysis and control in engineering design, including non-linear vibration, railway vehicle dynamics and ground-borne vibration.  His first book, An Introduction to Random Vibrations and Spectral Analysis, was published in 1976.  Mechanical Vibration Analysis and Computation followed in 1989 and a third edition of his first book in 1993, now expanded to include wavelet analysis.  Both books remain extremely popular, having been translated into numerous languages and selling well over 100,000 copies.

Alongside his considerable contributions to engineering research and teaching, Newland maintained an astonishing record of professional practice.  Whilst still at Sheffield University, his engineering expertise brought him to public prominence when a catastrophic explosion occurred at a chemical plant close to the village of Flixborough, UK.  The disaster was Britain’s worst ever peace-time industrial accident, involving 28 fatalities and 36 seriously injured.  Newland proved to be the key expert witness, showing the cause of the explosion to have been the dynamic failure of a bellows expansion joint in a temporary pipe between two reactors.  The case made engineering history, and saw Newland appointed Chair of the BSI committee responsible for preparing a new British Standard for these components.

In addition to the Flixborough Inquiry, Newland was expert witness for the Piper Alpha Inquiry (1988) and the Potters Bar Derailment Investigation (2002), along with numerous forensic studies and design arbitration cases.  Early consultancy work on railway suspension design for two American companies, United Aircraft Corporation and Calspan Inc., led to subsequent work with British Rail and London Transport, and thereafter a regular stream of projects for the likes of British Gas, GEC, ICI, James Walker & Company, Land Rover, Leyland Vehicles and Rolls-Royce.  He served as a member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (1984-89), was a member of the Engineering Council's Working Party on Risk Issues (1990-93) and was appointed Engineering Adviser to the London Millennium Bridge Trust (2000) to advise on remedial work on the 'wobbly bridge'.

Newland was held in high regard by his peers, both professionally and as a cheerful, kind-hearted colleague.  He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1982 (Member of Council 1985-87) and held an ScD from Cambridge University and an Honorary DEng from Sheffield University.  He was a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the Institution of Engineering and Technology, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Acoustical Society of America.

One institution was particularly close to Newland’s heart: The International Institute of Acoustics and Vibration (IIAV), which he helped found in 1995 with Malcolm Crocker, Hanno Heller and Sir James Lighthill.  The IIAV was, and remains, the only non-profit international scientific society dedicated to both acoustics and vibration.  Newland was an enthusiastic member since its foundation, and was elected its eighth Honorary Fellow in 2005.  It is fitting that his final academic paper was published only last year in the Institute’s journal, and on the very same subject – centrifugal pendulum vibration absorbers – as his first paper, published in 1964.

Newland had wide ranging interests, including bee keeping, cycling, bell ringing, running, photography and butterflies.  The latter two led to further best sellers in their field: Discover Butterflies in Britain, Britain’s Butterflies and Britain’s day-flying Moths.  Newland met his wife Patricia (nee Mayne) in 1958 and enjoyed 61 years of marriage before her death, just a few months before his own.  They had two sons: Andrew, who is founder and Chief Executive of a cancer diagnostics company; and Richard, a doctor and now racehorse trainer.

James Talbot

With thanks to Dr Richard Newland and Professor David Cebon

"David Newland used his exceptional mind to become a international authority on everything to do with vibration from its analysis and control to its catastrophic effect in accidents.  His guidance was sought repeatedly by government on the recommendation of his colleagues who recognised his unequalled expertise.  At the same time he was a charming and friendly man with a broad range of interests far removed from engineering who invariably greeted you with a smile. It was always a pleasure to be with him and he made huge contributions to the Department and to the University as a whole."

Lord Alec Broers

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