Principal and Vice-Chancellor

OBE, FREng, FTSE, FRSE BSc (Eng), PhD London, CEng, ARSM, DIC, FIMMM, FIChemE, CSci

Richard Williams

Professor Richard A. Williams, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University, is an academic and entrepreneur working in mineral, energy storage systems and environmental technologies. Professor Williams is an academician of the Royal Academy of Engineering and of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He holds an honorary professorship of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He is Vice-President and a Fellow and Trustee of the Royal Academy of Engineering (UK) and was recognised as one on the UK’s top 20 nationally inspiring leaders of UK science and innovation by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, with the designation as a ‘RISE Fellow’. Professor Williams is also a visiting professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Beijing), Southeast University (Nanjing) and Taylors University (Kuala Lumpur). He is a trustee of the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland and Advisory Board member of the Lloyds Register Foundation and the Converge Challenge. He is Convener of the International Committee for the 19 higher education institutions of Universities Scotland.

An engineer, leader and innovator, Professor Williams has brought several new concepts, processes and methodologies into practice in the chemical, materials, energy and instrumentation sectors, work reported in over 400 publications and several patents. He has a strong interest in the effective translation of scientific and engineering knowledge to society through commercial and not-for-profit routes, and has worked extensively in developing relationships with academic and industrial partners in Europe, Middle East, Asia and Africa. He also has interests in public engagement projects across the arts-science-engineering domains.

Professor Williams studied at Imperial College London, graduating with a BSc (Eng) Mineral Technology (1983) and PhD (1995). He worked as a trainee metallurgist for Anglo American Corporation (1979-80) and De Beers Industrial Diamonds Research Laboratory (1982–1986). He was appointed lecturer in Chemical Engineering at University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (now University of Manchester) in 1986. He specialised in the area of surface and colloid engineering. In 1993 he was appointed Royal Academy of Engineering-Rio Tinto Professor of Minerals Engineering at the University of Exeter (based at the Camborne School of Mines). Aged 33 he was one of the youngest engineering professors in the UK. In 1999 he was appointed as Anglo American plc Professor of Mineral and Process Engineering at the University of Leeds, where he was responsible for developing a new Institute of Particle Science and Engineering. He was Head of the Department of Mining  at Leeds (2001–2003) and was director of British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) Research Alliance at the University, responsible for development of new activities in nuclear energy waste processing (2000–2006). He was founding director of Centre for Industrial Collaboration in Particle Science and Technology (2003–2006) and Leeds Nanomanufacturing Institute (2004–2010). Appointed Pro-Vice Chancellor (2005-2010) at University of Leeds, Professor Williams was responsible for leadership of enterprise, knowledge transfer and international strategy (2005-2010) and latterly for international partnerships (2010-2011) strategy. He was on the academic board of the World Universities Network (WUN) (2009-2011).

Professor Williams was appointed as Pro-Vice-Chancellor at University of Birmingham in September 2011, with responsibility for nine Schools comprising the Engineering and Physical Sciences. He has developed work on policy and technology related to energy storage and the wider adoption of renewables facilitated through high capacity low-cost storage methods and directed the University of Birmingham activities in China. He was an elected member of CBI Midlands (2013 – 2015) and a Board Member of the Birmingham Green Commission (2012–15). He was a founding director of the Manufacturing Technology Centre (Ltd) (CATAPULT) in Coventry (2012–15), a director of Alta Innovations Ltd (2011–15), Alta Birmingham China Ltd (2012–15) and he is the founder of several spin-out enterprises from his own research (relating to instrumentation, modelling and energy utilisation) including two public limited companies.

Professor Williams is currently on the editorial boards of The IChemE Transactions (UK), Minerals Engineering (UK) and Particuology (China).