The LIA has introduced a set of annual awards dedicated to Professor William Maxwell Steen, a veteran and pioneer of laser technology

This year the Laser Institute (LIA) announced a new set of awards that it plans to confer annually to user organisations that demonstrate significant innovation in the use of lasers for advanced materials processing. Finalists and recipients of the awards will present their innovations at the International Congress on Applications of Lasers & Electro-Optics (ICALEO) on 7-10 October. The awards will be conferred across each of the following industries: aerospace; automotive; medical devices; microelectronics; specialised manufacturing and services; research and development; life sciences; defence; academic and public sector. They are dedicated to Professor William Maxwell Steen, a pioneer of laser materials processing research who is commonly referred to as ‘the father of laser materials processing’ in the industrial laser community. Steen, in addition to founding the world’s

first university-based research group in laser material processing at Imperial College London in 1968, can be accredited with the invention of laser chemical vapour deposition, laser arc hybrid welding, and with his research group, the development of blown powder laser cladding and laser direct casting – processes which formed the foundation of laser additive manufacturing for metallic materials, more commonly known today as 3D printing. He also co-founded the Association of Industrial Laser Users (AILU) in 1995 and served as its president for the first eight years. In addition, in 1997 Steen was the first European to be awarded the Arthur Schawlow Award by LIA, and at ICALEO 2008 there was a tribute session to his lifetime achievements. He has a laboratory named after him at the University of Vigo, Spain, and has received a medal from Pelacky University in Oloumouc, Czech Republic, for his pioneering work on lasers. Steen’s textbook Laser Material

Processing – the fourth edition of which was published in 2010 – has for years been a vital source of information for students, researchers and engineers learning laser material processing. Many of Steen’s ex- students (and even their ex-students) now either run their own business, teach, or make money from laser material processing. On hearing the announcement of the new

award, Laser Systems Europe approached Steen to find out more about his many experiences exploring the realm of laser technology.

When did you first begin working in laser technology? In 1964 I was appointed lecturer at Imperial College London in process metallurgy. I became interested in metal extraction by volatile compounds, such as chlorides, and this led to trying to make patterns by depositing metal from volatile compounds, such as nickel carbonyl. I realised that the pattern created using shaped jets on hot plates was very blurred, and thus needed to make a shaped hot spot. I bought a glass tube with mirror mounts from Ealing Scientific, built my own power supply and I had a very unstable 5W CO2 laser on which I invented the process of laser chemical vapour deposition (LCVD), which worked but obviously needed more power. In working this up I won a contract for the first industrial fast axial flow 2kW CO2

Professor Steen being presented with an Honorary Fellowship to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers by the institute’s president Carolyn Griffiths


Emma Johnston being presented with the AILU Young Engineer’s Prize by John Bishop (left) and Professor Steen, who was Emma’s PhD supervisor at Liverpool University and AILU president at the time (2002)


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