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Smeaton Lecture 2024: John Smeaton, mechanical engineer – rotating machinery, history and legacy

Event organised by ICE

16 July 2024

This event has now ended


The 2024 ICE Smeaton Lecture will be delivered by Ric Parker, visiting professor in mechanical engineering at Imperial College London. He will provide a retrospective of John Smeaton’s work – in particular, his achievements in the field of rotating machines.

It’s notable that virtually every piece of writing about the great man starts by calling him “John Smeaton, civil engineer”. Smeaton actually coined this term to describe himself. In the early 18th century, “engineer” was defined as “one who designs and constructs military engines or works”, so he was making a deliberate bid to distinguish his endeavours and those of his like-minded colleagues. 

While his major civil works – including bridges, canals and lighthouses – are rightly celebrated, previous retrospectives have already covered these in some detail. This lecture, commemorating the 300th anniversary of Smeaton’s birth, will focus on his contributions to rotating machines such as windmills, water wheels and steam engines. 

With his scientific education (it was impossible to obtain a degree in anything like engineering until the late 19th century), Smeaton was a great experimentalist, deriving numerous rules and constants as design aids. His lift coefficient for a windmill sail, for instance, was used by the Wright brothers in 1900 when they were developing the world’s first aeroplane. Even today’s wind turbines, which are producing a growing proportion of the UK’s green energy, can be considered part of Smeaton’s remarkable legacy. 

Parker worked for 37 years at the Rolls-Royce Group, where he was immersed in the engineering of rotating machines. The gas turbine, whether used for energy generation or vehicular propulsion, formed a key part of his career, but he has also been involved in many other interesting projects, including work to harness tidal power. 


18:30 - 19:00

Registration and refreshments

(Registrations will start at 18:30 for those who are attending in person. For those joining online, we recommend logging into the platform at 18:45 to test connections.)

19:00 - 19:05

Introduction from Professor Anusha Shah, ICE President 2023-24 and senior director, resilient cities, at Arcadis

19:05 - 20:00

Presentation from Professor Ric Parker, visiting professor in mechanical engineering, Imperial College London

20:00 - 20:25

Q&A session

20:25 - 20:27

Summary from Professor Anusha Shah, ICE President 2023-24 and senior director, resilient cities, at Arcadis

20:27 - 20:30

Vote of thanks from Tony Roche, president, Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers


Event closed


Prof. Anusha Shah

Prof. Anusha Shah

Institution of Civil Engineers

president 2023/24

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Prof. Anusha Shah

Anusha Shah is a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and its president for the 2023-24 session. She’s the third woman and first person of colour to be elected as president in over 200 years of ICE history.

She’s a senior director for resilient cities and UK climate change adaptation lead at Arcadis, a global sustainability, design, engineering and management consulting firm.

She’s also a non-executive director at the Met Office, a trustee at the Green Alliance and a visiting professor at Edinburgh University. She was awarded honorary professorship by the University of Wolverhampton for knowledge transfer and an honorary doctorate of engineering by the University of East London for her services to address climate change.

Anusha specialises in water and environmental engineering and has over 22 years of experience in designing, managing and leading projects and programmes in the UK and internationally.

Anusha sits on various industry climate change groups. She represents Arcadis at the London Climate Change Partnership and the 50L Home Initiative of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. She’s a past chair of the Thames Estuary Partnership Board.

Anusha is the recipient of several awards, including the 2020 Top 50 UK Women Engineers Sustainability Award and the CECA Inspiring Change Award. She was recognised by Climate Reframe as one of the UK’s leading Black, Asian and minority ethnic voices on climate change.

Tony Roche

Tony Roche

Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers


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Tony Roche

Tony Roche is a hugely experienced engineer and manager with a distinguished career in the railway sector.

He held several senior posts with British Rail, including engineering director for the InterCity fleet; director of mechanical and electrical engineering; chief executive of British Rail Maintenance; deputy managing director of Network South-East; and executive board member for engineering, safety and support services.

On leaving British Rail, he established a consultancy advising on railway management and engineering.

Professor Richard Parker

Professor Richard Parker

Imperial College London

visiting professor, mechanical engineering

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Professor Richard Parker

Ric Parker is an independent special adviser working with a range of organisations in the fields of technology strategy and technology transfer. 

He is a consultant to the Singapore government’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research. He chairs both the Singapore Aerospace Programme and the Singapore Low Carbon Energy Research Programme. He is a distinguished visitor at the UK National Physical Laboratory and a technical adviser to aviation company Boom Supersonic.

Parker retired from his post as director of research and technology at the Rolls-Royce Group in 2016 after 37 years with the company. In that role, he was responsible for research and technology programmes throughout the organisation. He’d held various posts before that, including managing director of the compressor systems business and chief of composites and ceramics. 

In 2013, Parker was honoured with a CBE in recognition of his services to engineering. He was named European CTO of the Year in 2014 by the European Industrial Research Management Association. The following year, he won the Royal Aeronautical Society Gold Medal. In 2019, the Council of European Aerospace Societies recognised him as Engineer of the Year. In 2021, he was awarded the Singapore Public Service Medal.

Parker is a visiting professor in mechanical engineering at Imperial College London (ICL), a visiting professor in aerospace and transport technology at Loughborough University and an honorary professor in materials engineering at the University of Birmingham.

He holds honorary doctorates from ICL, Loughborough University, the University of Sheffield, Heriot-Watt University, the University of Edinburgh, Pusan National University (South Korea) and Nanyang Technological University (Singapore). 

He is a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Aeronautical Society, the Institute of Physics, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the City & Guilds of London Institute. He is also a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Engineers.