Article - Issue 24, September 2005

Academy Soiree at the University of Southampton

Professor Bill Wakeham FREng

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RNLI volunteers being presented to The Duke of Edinburgh © Steve Shrimpton

RNLI volunteers being presented to The Duke of Edinburgh © Steve Shrimpton

The Royal Academy of Engineering’s annual Soirée – staged for Fellows, partners and special guests – was hosted by the University of Southampton this year. Professor Bill Wakeham, Vice-Chancellor of the University, talks about the evening’s exhibitions, honoured guests and successes.

Three years on from celebrating its Golden Jubilee, the University of Southampton is recognised as a world-leader in research across a wide range of disciplines. Many of these areas of study such as oceanography, law, ship science and engineering, have strong maritime links. It is one of the UK's premier universities for engineering, with high ratings for the quality of its research and teaching. It is also home to the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, which was officially opened by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh as Southampton Oceanography Centre nearly 10 years ago.

I am delighted that the University was able to welcome back His Royal Highness, together with Fellows of The Royal Academy of Engineering and guests, for The Royal Academy of Engineering Summer Soirée in June 2005. The Duke is an Honorary Graduate of the University and his presence at the Soirée, as Senior Fellow of the Academy, made the evening a special privilege for us.

Over 300 guests enjoyed a formal dinner in the dockside marquee on a warm summer evening and visited the exhibition Exploring the Oceans, which highlighted University research in oceanography and other areas of science, engineering and technology. One very topical exhibit was a Virtual Trafalgar display, where enthusiasts could fight the battle again in a virtual marine environment (see:, the Soirée being held in the week of the Trafalgar anniversary events on the Solent.

The Duke, who was Guest of Honour at the Soirée, spent an hour viewing the exhibits, including a visit to the control room of the University’s remotely-operated deep-diving vessel Isis, which was on display on the dockside. Other exhibits included investigations into waves and acoustics, ways of using marine currents to generate electricity, and research on methane hydrates, ice-like deposits occurring in deep ocean sediments, which show promise as major energy sources. The Duke also saw some of the outreach activities involving schools and the community.

I am pleased to say that the event was a great success. The Royal Academy of Engineering Soirée provided an opportunity for the University to showcase its excellent engineering research and education to a wide audience of academics, industrialists and the local community. This opportunity was grasped with both hands by those who designed and staffed exhibitions to display some of the University’s achievements.

This year’s Reith lectures entitled The Triumph of Technology, given by the Academy’s President, Lord Broers, were accompanied by an internet poll to identify the greatest inventions. However, even he was not able to convince the general public that the greatest invention arose from areas of high technology because the bicycle was voted as the best invention overall! The Soirée exhibition might, of course, have suggested that the winner should be the boat, but the result undoubtedly demonstrated the power of another invention, the internet, which allowed such a widespread participation in the vote. Thus, one of the University’s newer professors – Sir Tim Berners-Lee FREng, the inventor of the World Wide Web – has much to answer for the popularity of inventions other than his own!

During his visit, The Duke of Edinburgh also officially renamed the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS) and unveiled a plaque to mark the occasion, nearly 10 years after he had officially unveiled the original plaque in 1996. In a speech welcoming His Royal Highness, Professor Ed Hill, Director of NOCS, said: ‘The United Kingdom is a great maritime nation. It also has outstanding intellectual capital in science and engineering. This centre will epitomise the fusion of all that is best in science and engineering to understand the seas and to learn how to use them for the future well-being of all our people.’ Sentiments with which I heartily agree.

The Soirée was supported by Southampton City Council, South East England Development Agency (SEEDA), Associated British Ports, IBM, Lloyd’s Register, Ordnance Survey and the RNLI.

Biography – Professor Bill Wakeham

Professor Wakeham FREng FlnstP FlChemE FIEE is Vice-Chancellor of the University of Southampton. He is a Council Member of EPSRC and a Board Member of the South East England Development Agency. He is also a Chartered Engineer and a Chartered Physicist.

Further reference

For more information about the exhibition visit:

National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS):

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