Engineer of the Week No.100: Marion Katharine Petch McQuillan BSc, MIM, MBIM (nee Blight) (30 Oct 1921 - 4 June 1998)
In the week in which she would have celebrted her 98th birthday, we remember Marion McQuillan, metallurgist who specialised in the engineering uses for titanium and its alloys.
Born in Watford, Marion Katharine Blight came from a working class family, her father being a shop assistant and her mother working in domestic service. She was picked out early in her school days as exceptional and went to Wycombe High School and then Henrietta Barnett’s School on scholarships. In 1939 she went to Girton College, Cambridge, where she took a degree in natural sciences and metallurgy, enabling her to start as a Junior Scientific Officer in the corrosion section at the Royal Aircraft Establishment Farnborough (RAE) in 1942, with her new husband, Norman Petch, also a metallurgist, whom she had met at Cambridge. At the RAE she did research into metals for jet engines and was a member of the first team in Britain to carry out research on titanium. Despite her relatively junior status, she authored 5 reports at the RAE during 1944.
Her marriage to Petch did not last and they divorced in about 1944 and in 1947 she married yet another metallurgist, Alan Dennis McQuillam. After a year at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Hartwell, where she worked on some of the early metallurgical problems of nuclear energy, Marion and Alan went to new jobs at the Australian RAE in Melbourne.
On their return to the UK in 1951, she started what would be a career-long association with ICI Metals (also known as IMI), when she got a job as a technical officer in its Titanium Alloy Research Department. Two years later she had risen to become head of that section and in 1956 she and Alan published their seminal book “Titanium” which was subsequently also published in Russian. The 1960s were a very productive period for Marion’s work and professional standing. She registered 8 patents relating to titanium alloys. She rose to become the technical director of the New Metals Division of IMI in 1967 and in 1978 was appointed managing director of Enots, an IMI subsidiary, the first woman to become a managing director in the Imperial Metal Industries empire. Meanwhile she served on the Interservices Metallurgical Research Council (until 1989), was awarded the Rosenhain Medal in 1965 and elected vice-president of the Institute of Metals in 1967. The following year she was the guiding force behind the First International Conference on Titanium, organised by The Institute of Metals in 1968 in London.
Although she could presumably have retired in 1981, and despite her husband’s death in 1987, she seems to have continued with aspects of her life’s work well into her final years. Marion died in 1998.