Dr Rob Thornton

Associate Professor of Structural Integrity | Director of Education | Mental Health First Aid Higher Education Champion


Contact details

Mechanics of Materials Research Group
Engineering Learning and Professional Practice Group

School of Engineering
University Road - Leicester - LE1 7RH - UK
Email: rob.thornton@leicester.ac.uk
Tel: +44 (0)116 229 7406
Office: MA222

Personal details

I hold an MEng and PhD in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Sheffield, am a Chartered Engineer, Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. My PhD concerns the effects of cryogenic treatment on the tribological performance of engineering alloys including plain carbon steels, cast irons, tool steels and cobalt-bonded tungsten carbide tool materials. In 2013 I was awarded an EPSRC Doctoral Prize Fellowship to continue my research before being appointed Lecturer in Mechanics of Materials at the University of Leicester in October 2014 and promoted to Associate Professor of Structural Integrity in August 2020.

As an expert in tribology (friction, wear and lubrication) and materials characterisation, my teaching activities cover materials' properties, failure mechanisms and tribology. I'm eager to speak to industrial partners interested in collaborations on student projects and in research activities, and am also open to requests for consultancy.

Since joining the University of Leicester, I've been invited to a working group of the Standing Committee for Education and Training of the Royal Academy of Engineering, in collaboration with the Engineering Professors' Council, to explore the development of resources for engineering education. I have more recently been involved in chairing and hosting workshops on behalf of the EPC, to inform their response to Government proposals for the Teaching Excellence Framework. I was a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Technical and Policy Content Framework (2018-20), providing expert contributions in the areas of education and manufacturing.

I have also been involved in a Royal Academy of Engineering funded initiative, led by Ignite Imaginations, a creative arts charity. The project, Back Then, explored Sheffield's engineering heritage through an arts-engineering-history collaboration featuring local volunteers; retired engineers, practising engineers and trainees encouraged to communicate their experiences to the local community.

During my time at The University of Sheffield, I was heavily involved with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), volunteering on both a local and national level, and culminating in representing Young Members on its Trustee Board (2011-13). I continue to be a member of the IMechE Tribology Group and the steering committee for UK Tribology an inter-institutional collaboration between the IMechE, IETIoM3IoP and RSC that represents the multidisciplinary field of tribology.


As well as core teaching commitments, I lead enhancements in Engineering curricula aiming to develop students' personal and professional development skills and employability in line with UK-SPEC. In this regard I am particularly interested in working with industry, local government and charitable partners through sponsored student projects, and am always keen to work with experienced professionals to enhance sustainability, equality, diversity and inclusion in our programmes.

Module convener:

  • EG1006: Engineering Design and Experimentation
  • EG2006: Integrated Engineering Design
  • EG3124: Tribology in Engineering Design


  • EG3005: 3rd Year Individual Project
  • EG4007: 4th Year Group Project


During my PhD I made a number of observations of performance changes in engineering materials due to cryogenic treatments some that are difficult to explain by conventional understanding of materials transformation behaviours. As a result I'm exploring the fundamental microstructural changes that take place, pinpointing the exact conditions responsible and the key factors influencing them. At the same time I continue to work with industrial partners to evaluate the benefits that cryogenic treatments may bring in their applications and to their requirements.

Postgraduate Research Students (PhD)

My interests cover structural integrity and surface engineering. In these areas I currently supervise the following PhD researchers:

  • Rosa Griñón Echaniz (2016-2021), Evaluating the long-term corrosion performance of thermally sprayed aluminium coatings, EPSRC Innovative Metals Processing Centre for Doctoral Training (IMPaCT) in partnership with TWI Ltd. Rosa passed their viva in July 2021, having just become a Project Manager at Centro Tecnólogico Componentes (CTC) in Santander, Spain.
  • Kyle Nicholls (2017-2022), Investigating the mechanisms of microstructural change in hard wearing materials subjected to cryogenic treatments, EPSRC Innovative Metals Processing Centre for Doctoral Training (IMPaCT) in partnership with Cryogenic Treatment Services Ltd. Kyle switched to studying for their PhD part-time in July 2021, to take up a 0.5 FTE role as Experimental Officer in Mechanics of Materials at the University of Leicester.
  • Christian Chiadikobi (2018-2022), Investigating the effects of cryogenic processing on properties and performance of engineering coatings, EPSRC Innovative Metals Processing Centre for Doctoral Training (IMPaCT) in partnership with Cryogenic Treatment Services Ltd.

Additionally, I am the second supervisor to PhD researchers working on nanostructured alloy and nanocomposite coatings, nanocomposite light alloy castings and friction stir welding. I was external supervisor to a PhD student at The University of Sheffield investigating the effects of cryogenic treatments on martensitic stainless steels and titanium alloys.

I have supervised the following PhD students through to award:


R. Griñon Echaniz, P. Refait, M. Jeannin, R. Sabot, S. Paul, R. Thornton, (2021), Study of cathodic reactions in defects of Thermal Spray Aluminium coatings on steel in artificial seawater, Corrosion Science, ISSN 0010-938X, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.corsci.2021.109514.

R. Griñon Echaniz, S. Paul, R. Thornton, P. Refait, M. Jeannin, A. Rodriguez, (2021), Prediction of Thermal Spray Coatings Performance in Marine Environments by Combination of Laboratory and Field Tests, Coatings, ISSN 2079-6412, https://doi.org/10.3390/coatings11030320.

K. Ponhan, K. Tassenberg, D.P. Weston, K.G.M. Nicholls, R. Thornton, (2020), Effect of SiC nanoparticle content and milling time on the microstructural characteristics and properties of Mg-SiC nanocomposites synthesized with powder metallurgy incorporating high-energy ball milling, Ceramics International, ISSN 0272-8842, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ceramint.2020.07.173.

Y. Zheng, H. Ye, R. Thornton, T.J. Ochalski, T. Knott, J. Wang, J. Liu, J. Wei, L. Chen, A. Cumont, R. Zhang, C. Li, (2020), Subsurface cleavage of diamond after high-speed three-dimensional dynamic friction polishing, Diamond & Related Materials, Volume 101, ISSN 0925-9635, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.diamond.2019.107600.

R. Thornton, R. Griñon Echaniz, S. Paul, (2019), Long-term corrosion protection of carbon steel in marine environments, 1st International Conference on Corrosion-resistant Steels and Metallurgical Technologies, 30 August - 1 September 2019, Nanjing, China.

R. Griñon Echaniz, S. Paul, R. Thornton, (2019), Effect of seawater constituents on the performance of thermal spray aluminium (TSA) in marine environments, Materials and Corrosion / Werkstoffe und Korrosion, Volume 70, Issue 6, Pages 996-1004, ISSN 1521-4176, https://doi.org/10.1002/maco.201810764.

D. Statharas, H.V. Atkinson, R. Thornton, J. Marsden, H. Dong, S. Wen, (2019), Getting the strain under control: Trans-Varestraint tests for hot cracking susceptibility, Metallurgical and Materials Transactions A, Volume 50, Issue 4, Pages 1748-1762, ISSN 1543-1940, http://doi.org/10.1007/s11661-019-05140-0. [Also featured as part of Tata Steel's research papers archive].

B.M.A. Al Bhadle, R.A.A. Al Azzawi, R. Thornton, K. Beamish, S. Shi, H.B. Dong, (2018), Equations of heat generation during friction stir welding for tapered polygonal tools, Science and Technology of Welding and Joining, Volume 24, Issue 2, Pages 93-100, ISSN 1743-2936, http://doi.org/10.1080/13621718.2018.1495407.

R. Griñon Echaniz, S. Paul, R. Thornton, (2018), Effect of seawater constituents on the performance of thermal spray aluminium (TSA) in marine environments, Eurocorr 2018 – The European Corrosion Congress, 9 – 13 September 2018, Krakow, Poland.

N. Chalashkanov, A. Bhangaonkar, R. Thornton, (2018), On the Importance of Peer Instruction in Group Design Projects, 14th International CDIO Conference, 28 June – 2 July 2018, Kanazawa, Japan.

P. Herrera, T. Slatter, R. Thornton, (2018), Abrasion Resistance of 304L and 316L Stainless Steel Subjected to Deep Cryogenic Treatment, 73rd Annual STLE Meeting & Exhibition, 20 - 24 May 2018, Minneapolis, United States.

T. Slatter and R. Thornton, (2016), Cryogenic Treatment of Engineering Materials, Reference Module in Materials Science and Engineering. ISBN 978-0-12-803581-8, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-803581-8.09165-7.

IMechE Tribology Group, (2014), Tribological Design Guides, 2nd edition, Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

R. Thornton, T. Slatter and R. Lewis, (2014), Effects of deep cryogenic treatment on the wear development of H13A tungsten carbide inserts when machining AISI 1045 steel, Production Engineering, Volume 8, Issue 3, Pages 355-364, ISSN 0944-6524, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11740-013-0518-7.

R. Thornton, T. Slatter and H. Ghadbeigi, (2013), Effects of deep cryogenic treatment on the dry sliding wear performance of ferrous alloys, Wear, Volume 305, Issues 1–2, Pages 177-191, ISSN 0043-1648, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.wear.2013.06.005.

R. Thornton, T. Slatter, A.H. Jones and R. Lewis, (2011), The effects of cryogenic processing on the wear resistance of grey cast iron brake discs, Wear, Volume 271, Issues 9–10, Pages 2386-2395, ISSN 0043-1648, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.wear.2010.12.014.


Ever since entering the world of engineering at the start of my first degree, I've been passionate about speaking out on issues relating to engineering, higher education and research funding. The 'noise' created by my social media activity (sometimes overactive!) has resulted in several media appearances. I'm open to requests for commentary on a range of issues. You can also search the University of Leicester's Experts Guide for enquiries in other areas.


  • 2015: Speculating on the challenges of manufacturing medieval armour and discussing modern advances in metallurgy on the Talking History (29/03) programme for BBC Radio Leicester.
  • 2013: Interviewed about the impacts of the 2013 Spending Review on higher education and the engineering sector for the BBC News Channel.
  • 2012: Various articles (Professional Engineering, local newspapers) covering a charity cycle ride undertaken from Sheffield to Stuttgart to raise money for Engineers Without Borders and Cancer Research UK.
  • 2010: Various interviews (BBC News Channel, ITV Calendar News, local radio) discussing proposed changes to higher education funding.

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