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Professor Brian Joseph Brinkworth CEng FREng FRAeS FIMechE FEI


A true gentleman with a quiet unassuming character, a brilliant academic, engineer, scientist, researcher, author, teacher, manager, communicator, aeronautics historian, and solar energy pioneer, Brian Brinkworth passed away peacefully on 17 June 2021 after a brief illness.

Brian began his career in September 1948 at the Royal Ordnance Factory in Llanishen, Cardiff where he was an engineering trainee studying for an ONC. In 1949, he was selected for a Scholarship to Bristol University, where he read Mechanical Engineering, after which he worked at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) Farnborough, performing research on aeronautical and defence issues of the day. He left Farnborough in 1960 to become a Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, where he progressed to become Professor of Energy Studies in 1977, then Dean of the faculty of engineering, and Emeritus Professor when he retired in 1996.

His visionary book “Solar Energy for Man” was published in 1972 and he was the first President of the Energy Institute with a background in renewable energy (1989-90). He worked with the aeronautical research council for many years and continued his research on aeronautics and his passionate documenting of aviation history until just before he died. He inspired children all over the UK in 1976 with his IMechE Isaac Newton lectures, and was elected Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1992. His book on the innovative hydromotor for low head hydro power generation earned him the James Watt Gold Medal from the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1999, and his candid letters appeared frequently in newspapers commenting on topics of the day. He was an outstanding university teacher, researcher, and leader at Cardiff University, and those who worked in his Solar Energy Unit at University College Cardiff back in the 1970s and 80s have special memories of Brian’s pioneering vision, his rigorous analyses of solar energy systems, and his unfaltering willingness to share his knowledge and to support his colleagues and students.

Brian’s interest in solar energy was triggered in the 1950s by his work at the Royal Aircraft Establishment and, like so many of his initiatives, the timing of his book “Solar Energy for Man” was perfect - just before the first oil crisis in 1973/4 and when the establishment of a UK section of the International Solar Energy Society (ISES) was under discussion. Brian was a strong supporter of ISES; he published papers in its journal, he spoke at its conferences, and he was heavily involved as an organising committee member for its lighthouse event - the ISES World Congress in Brighton in 1981.

In 1974, Brian started to build a Solar Energy Unit at University College Cardiff, which grew to employ a multi-national team of some 18 researchers and produced a family of renewable energy experts whose members have continued to work successfully across the globe ever since. The international importance of this work was recognised in the Achievement Through Action (Christopher Weekes) Award, received at the ISES Solar World Congress in Montreal in 1985.

One of Brian’s strengths was his recognition that for renewable energy technologies to compete successfully in energy markets, their performance must be demonstrated using rigorous scientific and engineering measurements. He established the laboratories, facilities and test platforms of his Solar Energy Unit to meet this need, and gave a high priority to national and international collaborative work on traceable calibration reference standards and internationally agreed procedures for performance measurements. The SRC solar simulator, which was built in his Unit in 1976/77, together with outdoor facilities for testing solar collectors, significantly advanced the state-of-the-art. In addition, he established a suite of measurement services for evaluating the optical and thermal properties of materials and coatings, for which he succeeded in obtaining national (NAMAS) accreditation. This in turn led to a new business in energy and environment testing services (EETS) in Cardiff providing measurements for industry. It also led to a Surface Coatings Testing Service for industry being set up in Oxford, and both have operated successfully for almost 40 years.

A key reason for Brian’s success was his commitment to working internationally and to employing a multinational team. He took advantage of the opportunities created when the UK joined the EEC in 1973 and quickly secured collaboration with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, and also persuaded the UK government to fund his Unit’s participation in the International Energy Agency Solar Heating and Cooling Programme. This international work strengthened the expertise in Cardiff and helped Brian to convince the British Standards Institution (BSI) to set up its first Technical Committee on solar heating, which he chaired and guided to publish some innovative BSI test procedures for solar collectors and the first BSI code of practice for solar water heating. Brian’s early work with the BSI was later reflected in European (CEN) and International (ISO) Standards.

Brian’s international profile attracted visits by solar energy experts from across the world, notably Professor Jack Duffie from the USA, ISES President and co-author of the landmark text book ”Solar engineering of thermal processes”. The numbers of visitors to the Solar Energy Unit grew as public interest in solar energy increased, so a communications officer was employed and a newsletter published. The importance of visitors also grew, from researchers to government officials to Ministers, and culminated in 1991 with a visit by Her Majesty the Queen.

Alongside his focus on rigorous academic research and University teaching, Brian also worked with industry. Already in 1974, he worked with a kitchen manufacturer in Llanelly, to develop a commercially viable solar water heating system and to test it on a specially constructed solar house. Lessons learned from this were used to guide his research activities and in 1977 to build a solar water heating system on a student hall of residence at Lys Tal y Bont in Cardiff.

Whilst continuing to carry a teaching load, Brian worked hard with his research team, published regularly in journals and conferences, and successfully applied for funding for new project ideas.

By his colleagues and co-workers, Brian is remembered for his meticulously scripted notes and his innovative ideas, but above all for his selfless approach and his encouragement to further their careers. He taught them not only about energy and research, but also about leadership and management by setting an example – an excellent role model for future pioneers to follow!

To his family, Brian was a devoted husband, a loving father and a proud grandfather and great grandfather.

(Donations to Rowans Hospice via Stuart Foster Funeral Services Ltd, 27 Market St, Yeovil, Somerset BA20 1HZ.)