Constance Tipper

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Constance Tipper (born Constance Fligg Elam; 16 February 1894 – 14 December 1995) was an English metallurgist and crystallographer.[1][2] She investigated brittle fracture of metals used in the construction of warships, and was the first female full-time faculty member at Cambridge University Department of Engineering.

Constance Tipper
Constance Fligg Elam

16 February 1894
Died14 December 1995 (aged 101)
EducationNewnham College, Cambridge
Spouse(s)George Howard Tipper

Early Life and Career[edit]

Constance Fligg Elam was born in New Barnet, Hertfordshire, the daughter of surgeon William Henry Elam, and Lydia Coombes. She was educated at Saint Felix School, Southwold before studying Engineering at Newnham College, Cambridge (1912). Tipper achieved a third class in Part I of the Natural Science Tripos.[3] In 1915 she joined the Metallurgical Department of the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, but moved in 1916 to the Royal School of Mines in Kensington, west London, where in 1917 she was appointed Research Assistant to Sir Harold Carpenter and, in 1921, elected to the Frecheville Research Fellowship[4], also in 1917 she was elected member of the Institute of Materials [5] It was subsequently arranged that she should work at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge.[6] web|url= Constance Tipper|accessdate= 23 April 2018}}</ref> In 1924 she was appointed to the Research Fellowship in Metallurgy given by the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Braziers in the City of London[7]. She was the first recipient of this award.

In 1928, Elam married George Tipper, a graduate of Clare College, Cambridge, and the Superintendent of the Geological Survey in India. When she left the Royal School of Mines in 1929, with a DSc, she settled in Cambridge and continued her work there for over 30 years.[8] Tipper was appointed as a lecturer in the Department of Engineering from 1939, as one of the first women lecturers in the university at a time when many male lecturers went off to wartime work.[3]

In 1949 Tipper was appointed as a Reader at Cambridge University, becoming the only full-time woman member of the Faculty of Engineering. She remained at Cambridge until her retirement in 1960. Following her retirement, Tipper continued to work as a consultant in the North-West of England, advising on metallurgy in submarine construction.[8] Her 100th birthday in 1994 was celebrated by Newnham College with the planting of the Tipper Tree, a sweet chestnut.


Tipper specialised in the investigation of metal strength and its effect on engineering problems. During World War II she investigated the causes of brittle fracture in Liberty Ships.[3] These ships were built in the US between 1941 and 1945, and were the first all-welded pre-fabricated cargo ships.[9] Tipper established that the fractures were not caused by welding, but were due to the properties of the steel itself. She demonstrated that there is a critical temperature below which the fracture mode in steel changes from ductile to brittle. Because ships in the North Atlantic were subjected to low temperatures, they were susceptible to brittle failure. While these fatigue cracks would not propagate beyond the edges of riveted steel plates, they were able to spread across the welded joints in the Liberty ships.[10] She developed what is now known as the "Tipper Test" to help ensure that the metal used in ship construction was sufficiently sound.[11]

She was the first person to use a scanning electron microscope (SEM) to examine metallic fracture faces. She used a scanning electron microscope built by Charles Oatley and his team, the second SEM ever built. Dr Tipper was awarded the Thomas Lowe Gray Prize, jointly with Professor J F Baker OBE MA ScD MIC MI Mech E FRS, for their paper ‘The Value of the Notch Tensile Test’, read before the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in October 1955.[12]

The International Congress on Fracture awards the Constance Tipper Silver Medal[13] to mid-career scientists and engineers who have made significant contributions in any aspect of research in the field of fracture.

Awards and honours[edit]


  • "The Production of Single Crystals of Aluminium and their Tensile Properties" (with H. C. H. Carpenter). Proceedings of the Royal Society of London (1921).
  • Deformation of Metal Crystals (1935).
  • The Brittle Fracture Story (Cambridge University Press, 1962).
  • Publication: The fracture of mild steel plate. Report no. R3 (The Admiralty Ship welding Committee) [illustr.] London 1948
  • Brittle fracture of mild steel plates (British Iron and Steel Research Association Procs. of a conf at the Engineering Laboratory, Cambridge University, 26 Oct 1945 p. 23-50 abstracted in Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute Oct 1947 p 300)
  • The influence of rate of deformation on the tensile test with special reference to the yield point in Iron and Steel (reprinted from Proc. of the Royal Society of London Series A no. 923 vol 165 April 1938)
  • The distortion of B-Brass and Iron Crystals (Proc. of the Royal Society of London Series A no. 879, vol. 153 p 273-301 Jan. 1936 [illustr.])
  • The distortion of metal crystals (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1935)
  • article in Nature (Letters to Editor Nature 133, 723-723 (12 May 1934) doi:10.1038/133723aO)
  • Slip-bands and Twin-like Structures in Crystals


  • Charles, Jim and Gerry Smith. "Constance Tipper: her life and work", Materials World (1996).
  • Hayes, Evelyn. "Dr. Constance Tipper: testing her mettle in a materials world", Advanced Materials & Processes (1998).
  • Hetzel, Phyllis. Obituary, The Independent (1995). Retrieved on 27 May 2007.
  1. ^ Template:Materials World, June 1996, p 336 - 337
  2. ^ "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - Tipper [née Elam], Constance Fligg". 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/60337. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ a b c Ogilvie, Marilyn Bailey; Harvey, Joy Dorothy (2000). The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science: L-Z. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9780415920407.
  4. ^ Template:Materials World
  5. ^ Template:Journal of Iron and Steel Institute, Oct 1947, p.284
  6. ^ Template:Nature 132, 56-56 (08 July 1933)
  7. ^ "Editorial Notes". The Woman Engineer. 1: 344. September 1924.
  8. ^ a b Anne, Barrett (24 February 2017). Women At Imperial College; Past, Present And Future. World Scientific. ISBN 9781786342645.
  9. ^ "Building Liberty ships for the war effort, 1941". Rare Historical Photos. 18 July 2017. Retrieved 15 February 2019.
  10. ^ Hetzel, Phyllis (20 December 1995). "Obituary: Constance Tipper". The Independent. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
  11. ^ Cathcart, Brian (16 February 2004). "No dinner, but a nice box of chocs". Retrieved 7 March 2018.
  12. ^ "1957". The Woman Engineer. 8: no. 7, page 2. Winter 1957.
  13. ^ "ICF AWARDS". Retrieved 15 February 2019.

External links[edit]