Alan Arthur Wells

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Alan Arthur Wells (1 May 1924 – 8 November 2005)[1] was a British structural engineer.

Early life[edit]

He was born in Goff's Oak, Hertfordshire to Arthur John Wells, a British Oxygen Company engineer and educated at the City of London School as a day boy. He left school in 1940 to become an apprentice fitter and studied for a London University external degree via day release and weekend classes. He was awarded an intermediate B.Sc in 1941 at the age of 17. After two years at Nottingham University College he was awarded an honours degree in Engineering, 2nd Class.[1]


After graduation he was allocated to the Admiralty works in Rosyth where he was responsible for setting up a photoelasticity and model stress analysis laboratory in support of the designs of warships based in Bath.

After the war he accepted a research post at Cambridge but in 1951 moved to the British Welding Research Association where by the 1960s he had become Deputy Director of Research. His work at BWRA included seminal studies and findings on brittle fracture.

In 1964 he accepted the newly created Chair of Structural Science within the Department of Civil Engineering in Queen’s University Belfast. In 1970 he became Head of Department, and from 1973 to 1976 he was also Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science and Technology. At Belfast his major contribution was the invention of a novel turbine for generating electricity from wave-power. The Wells turbine rotates in one direction irrespective of the direction of axial fluid flow driving it and is best suited to devices containing an oscillating water column in which waves force the piston-like motion of a column of water in a chamber with the air above blown and sucked through the Wells turbine. Thus low-speed reciprocating movement is efficiently transformed into high-speed rotational motion of the turbine shaft, which is used to drive an electrical generator. It became the most commonly adopted machine in prototype wave-power devices throughout the world during the next 30 years.

In 1977 he returned to BWRA, now renamed the Welding Institute as Director General, retiring in 1989. During this period he was involved in the design and construction of a prototype wave-power plant based on an oscillating water column on the Isle of Islay. He later also contributed to two further prototypes,the OSPREY device in 1995 and LIMPET in 2000. LIMPET is still operational today and is one of the most successful wave-power plants in the world so far. It has produced an output of 200 kW delivered to the grid and is capable of 500 kW if located in a deeper site.

He had married Rosemary Mitchell in June 1950.

Honours and awards[edit]

  • 1942 Bayliss Prize, Institution of Civil Engineers
  • 1946 Miller Prize, Institution of Civil Engineers
  • 1955 President’s Gold Medal, Society of Engineers
  • 1956 Premium Award, Royal Institution of Naval Architects
  • 1964 Houdremont Lecture, International Institute of Welding
  • 1966 Hadfield Medal, Iron and Steel Institute
  • 1968 Larke Medal, Institute of Welding
  • 1969 Honorary Fellow, Institute of Welding
  • 1973 Honorary Doctorate, University of Ghent
  • 1975 Member, Royal Irish Academy
  • 1977 Fellow of the Royal Society of London [2]
  • 1979 Fellow, Royal Academy of Engineering
  • 1982 Rupert H. Myers Award, University of New South Wales
  • 1982 Officer, Order of the British Empire
  • 1982 DSc (honoris causa), University of Glasgow
  • 1983 Ludwig Tetmajer Award, Technical University of Vienna
  • 1984 Freedom of the City of London
  • 1986 DSc (honoris causa), Queen’s University Belfast
  • 1986 Platinum Medal, Institute of Metals
  • 1987 Edstrom Medal, International Institute of Welding
  • 1994 The Esso Medal, Royal Society
  • 1994 Yoshiaki Arata Award, International Institute of Welding
  • 1999 Honorary Fellowship, Institution of Mechanical Engineers
  • 2003 Named for Professional Members Building and Library at the TWI, Abington


  1. ^ a b Burdekin, M.; Crossland, B. (2007). "Alan Arthur Wells. 1 May 1924 -- 8 November 2005: Elected FRS 1977". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 53: 365. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2007.0019. 
  2. ^ "Library and Archive Catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 12 January 2011. [permanent dead link]