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Fundamentals, of explosive welding

a a
B. Crossland & A. S. Bahrani
Mechanical Engineering Department of The Queen's University
of Belfast
Published online: 20 Aug 2006.

To cite this article: B. Crossland & A. S. Bahrani (1968) Fundamentals, of explosive welding,
Contemporary Physics, 9:1, 71-87, DOI: 10.1080/00107516808204394

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00107516808204394


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CONTEMP. PHYS., 1968, VOL. 9, NO. 1, 71-87

Fundamentals, of Explosive Welding

Mechanical Engineering Department of The Queen’s University of Belfast

A~JYMARY. An account is given of the hasic mechanism of adhesion in all welding

processes, and a brief review of fusion and pressure welding techniques is given.
A completely new method of welding which employs high explosives is briefly described
and explained in terms of the principle used in the hollow charge, which wm developed
during days of war to defeat heavy armour plate.
The results of experimmta carried out to find the mechanical properties of explosively
welded joints are discussed and the application of the principle to the problem of
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welding tubes into end plates is described.

Results of metallurgical examination of the welded joints are presented and discussed
and the mechanism of the format,ion of the int.erfacia1waves is briefly mentioned.

1. Introduction
Welding can be defined as the process of joining two or more materials, often
metallic, by localized coalescence or union across the interface. The essential
conditions for any form of welding are that the two surfaces prior to welding
should be absolutely clean and uncontaminated and that these surfaces should
be brought into intimate contact with one another. It is impossible to produce
such surfaces by normal mechanical or chemical cleaning processes. However,
under conditions of high vacuum it has been reported by Bowden and Tabor
(1954) and Keller (1963) that nearly perfectly clean surfaces can be produced.
If surfaces produced under and maintained at high vacuum are brought into
contact then adhesion will occur between the asperities. The adhesion of
harder and less ductile materials will be considerably reduced due to the
rupturing of the junctions by elastic recovery when the load is removed.
With softer and more ductile materials the junction will probably not be
ru2tured when the load is removed, and the adhesion measured will be
appreciable. If in addition to the normal force a tangential force is applied
which is not sufficiently great to produce macroscopic sliding, then it is found
that the adhesion is greatly increased even with the harder metals and it is
found that the adhesion force can reach values well in excess of the normal
load applied. The effect of a tangential force has been satisfactorily explained
by Bowden and Tabor (1950) as being caused by the increased area of contact
at the asperities as a consequence of the reduction of normal load required to
cause yielding in the presence of a tangential stress.
Even though the importance of the presence of an oxide frlm is demonstrated
by the work carried out under high vacuum, nevertheless this still does not
provide a basic understanding of the nature of the adhesion force. If two
perfectly clean and atomically flat surfaces of the same metal are brought
together, interatomic repulsive and attractive forces will come into play and
equilibrium will be reached a t the equilibrium interatomic distance for the
metal concerned when the potential energy of the system is a minimum as
shown in fig. 1. The strength of the bond will depend on the crystallographic
misorientation across the interface and the diffusion and recrystallization
72 B . Crossland and A . S . Bahrani

which occurs, both of which are dependent on temperature. The situation in

relation to the adhesion of different metals which may not only have a different
atomic spacing but also a different crystal structure is obviously a problem
of great complexity, but nevertheless the adhesion which can still occur is a
consequence of the interat.omic forces. There is no doubt that the mismatching,
which is even more serious than with adhesion between the same metal, musb
influence t h e adhesion force..
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- interatomic spacing 4

Fig. 1. Forces and potential energy of a pair of atoms.

There are basically two welding processes and there are many variants of
each. Firstly there is fusion welding in which the surface of the two metals
are melted by the application of heat and the contaminant surface layers are
brought to the surface of the melt pool. Additional metal in the form of a
filler rod may be added t o the melt pool. Heat for fusion welding can be
provided by several methods which have been developed mainly during this
century. A very usual source of heat is that produced by an acetylene oxygen
flame formed by a fine gas jet. Another method which is used extensively is
t o employ an electric arc which is formed between an electrode and the metals
being welded. Frequently this arc is formed in an inert gas shield, such as in
the a,rgon arc process in which a shield of argon is used, to prevent excessive
oxidation in the region of the weld. More recently electron-beam welding has
been introduced in which the work-piece is placed in a high vacuum system
and bombarded with a dense and focused stream of high velocity electrons.
Even more recently focused laser (light amplification by stimulated emission
of radiation) beams have been employed for welding.
The second basic welding process is pressure welding, in which the surfaces
t o be joined do not attain their melting temperature, A fine example is
Fundamentals of Explosive WeMing 73

provided by the age-old process of forge welding which up to the twentieth

century was the only welding process in general use. I n forge welding the
work-pieces are heated to an appropriate temperature then quickly super-
imposed and then hammered together. During this process the mating surfaces
are plastically deformed, breaking up the conta.minatesurface films and creating
fresh uncontaminated areas where adhesion can occur. The work-pieces are
heated so that it is easier to plastically deform them under a forging hammer.
Cold pressure welding is possible if the two metals t o be welded are squeezed
together between indenting dies or rolls, and this method is extensively used to
clad stainless steel on to steel. Yet another example is provided by friction
welding, in which frictional heat is generated at the contacting surfaces between
a stationary and rotating work-piece which are pressed together. When they
reach a suitable temperature the rotation is stopped while the end load is
maintained or increased while the member is allowed to cool.
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Generally with fusion welding it is difficult to weld metals with appreciably

different melting-point temperatures and impossible if the boiling point of one
metal is higher than the melting point of the other. Even with some metals
with a similar melting point there may be serious metallurgical problems such
as the formation of intermetallic compounds with undesirable properties.
With pressure welding it is impossible to weld metals of appreciably different
hardness as one would plastically deform before the other. These problems
do not arise in explosive welding, and though explosive welding is seriously
limited in its field of application, nevertheless it does allow greatly dissimilar
metals to be welded together and provide joints of great strength.

2. Explosive welding
During the First World War it was observed that fragments of the steel
shells of bombs occasionally stuck to metallic objects in the vicinity of the
explosion. This, had it been realized, was an example of explosive welding.
explosive charge


di e holder

Fig. 2. Explosive forming.

74 B. Crossland and A . S. Bahrani

I n 1954 Allen, Mapes and Wilson found when right circular cylinders were
fired obliquely into thin plane lead targets, that above a certain critical angle
which depended on the velocity the surface of the front of the cylinder was
marked by a series of ridges or ‘ waves ’. Abrahamson (1961) who discussed
the formation of these waves, gave some photomicrographs of the junctions
between a steel bullet and a copper target and a steel bullet and a steel target
which showed that welding had occurred between them.
Welding between metals was observed in explosive-forming experiments in
1957. I n explosive-forming an explosive charge is detonated under water
(see fig. 2) and the shock wave generated imparts momentum to a sheet-metal
blank clamped above a die, thus forcing the sheet metal into the die. It was
noted that if a metal die was employed and an excessive explosive charge was
used, then the metal sheet became welded to the die. This discovery gave rise
to an interest in the possibility of using high explosives for welding processes
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and during the last few years such processes have been actively examined in
many countries and industrial use is now beginning to be made of such processes.
I n 1963 the first serious work on explosive welding to be disclosed in Great
Britain was started in the Mechanical Engineering Department of the Q,ueen’s
University of Belfast.

3. Mechanism of explosive welding

The mechanism of explosive welding is based on the analysis of the hollow
charge given by Birkhoff, MacDougall, Pugh and Taylor (1948). Fig. 3 ( a )
shows the general arrangement of a hollow charge. It will be seen that a
conical cavity in the explosive charge is lined with a thin metal liner. When

( a ) Hollow charge wi t h m e t a l liner before explosion

detonation f ro n t


( b ) The collapse o f the liner and the formation of a metal jet

Fig. 3 ( a ) and ( b ) . Hollow charge with metal liner.

Fundamentals of Explosive Welding 75

the charge is detonated the detonation wave moves down the explosive charge,
and when it reaches the apex of the liner it subjects the outer surface of the
cone to a very high pressure which causes its walls to collapse. The pressure
produced in the metal in the region where the walls of the liner collide (see
fig. 3 (b) ) is extremely high, probably of the order of los atmospheres which
is much higher than the shear strength of the metal. Consequently the
material in the region of impact behaves as an inviscid fluid and the laws of
fluid mechanics can be applied to the situation. It can be shown that the
liner material divides into a high velocity metallic jet ’ and a slower moving
slug as shown in fig. 3 ( b ) . This high velocity metallic jet has remarkable
penetrating powers, and the hollow charge in fact forms the basis of the
bazooka weapon used so successfully in the last war against heavy armour
plates on tanks.
I n explosive welding we shall see that the forming of a metallic jet is essential
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to achieve welding. Fig. 4 illustrates the set-up commonly used for cladding;
the top or flyer plate ’ is supported with a minimum of constraint at a small
angle of incidence relative to the stationary or ‘ parent plate ’ which is supported
on a relatively massive anvil plate. The top surface of the flyer plate is covered

ch8et explosive

I \

Fig. 4. Set-up for explosive cladding.

with a prot.ective buffer such as rubber or polystyrene, and above that the
sheet of high explosive is laid which is detonated from the lower edge. As
shown in fig. 5 the detonation of the explosive imparts a velocity V to the
flyer plate which collides with the parent plate at an increased angle of
incidence /3. It will be seen from fig. 5 that
u sin 4 = u sin (8- a)
v= (1)
where U is the detonation velocit8yfor the explosive sheet used and a is the
initial angle of incidence. It will also be noted that as the flyer plate collapses
on to the parent plate it moves at every instant as though it is hinged at S.
76 B . Crossland and A . 8.Bahrani

& P = U 6 I
V i U sin +I
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Fig. 5. Mode of collapse of flyer plate.

As the flyer plate collides with the parent plate it suffers a rapid retardation
and an extremely high pressure is generated in the region of impact a t S. As
in the hollow charge, the pressure is so high compared with the shear strength
of the materials involved that they behave for a very short interval of time in
a similar manner to inviscid fluids.
It is convenient t o change the coordinates of the system shown in fig. 5 so
as to bring point S t o rest. To do this it is necessary to apply a backward
velocity of VJsin /3 to the parent plate as shown in fig. 6. If this backward

r parent p l a t e


I - sin

- -
Fundamentals of Explosive Welding 77

velocity is applied to the system, then the velocity of the flyer plate is ?/'tan /3
towards S. As the metals at the point of impact are behaving as inviscid
fluids, the system becomes equivalent to a liquid jet of velocity V/tan /3
impinging on a stream travelling at a velocity of V/sin /3 at an angle of
incidence /3.
The liquid jet impinging the stream at S is deflected into a horizontal
direction still travelling at t h e same velocity, but this implies that the con-
servation of momentum in the horizontal plane has not. been satisfied.
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Fig. 7. Mechanics of collision; division of the main jet.

Consequently it must be concluded that the jet divides into salient and re-
entrant jets as shown in fig. 7.
Applying the conservation of momentum to the configuration in fig. 7 gives
m- cos /3 = m8- - mr-
tan /3 tan /3 tan /3
m cos /3=ms-mr
where m is the mass of the jet, m, is the mass which is diverted into the salient
jet, m, is the mass diverted into the re-entrant jet and V/tan /3 is the velocity
of the jet. It will be noted that
m =Wb,+Wbr (3)
and this, coupled with eqn. (2), gives
m, =-(1-cos/3)
2 (4)

ms = -
2 (1 + cos /3). (5)

The absolute velocity of the re-entrant jet will be

tan /3
sin /3 sin /3
(1 + cos P).
This theory is accurate as long as the velocity of the flyer plate relative to the
point of impact, 8,is subsonic or Vltan /3 is less than the velocity of sound in
the material being welded. However, at higher velocities the simple hydro-
dynamic theory is not applicable, as the role of shock waves within the flow
cannot be neglected. For example, if the sheet explosive is Metabel with a
78 B. Crossland and A . S. Bahrani

detonation velocity of 6500 m/sec and if the weight of charge is such as to give
a velocity to the flyer plate of 500 m/sec, then from eqn. (1)

sin @-a) = -
P-a =4" 25'.
If 01 is 10" then is 14" 25', and from eqn. (4)
mr = 0.01568 m,
or 1.5 per cent of the flyer plate is diverted into the re-entrant jet. So for a
flyer plate thickness of 5 mm, a layer 0.078 mm thick will be ' peeled ' off t o
form the re-entrant jet, which will have a velocity from eqn. (6) of 3950 m/sec
or a Mach number of 11.5. The velocity of the point of impact is V/sin or
2000mJsec which is considerably lower than the velocity of sound in the
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parent plate, so t,hat deformation will spread into regions of the parent plate
ahead of the point of impact. Consequently a hump develops in the parent
plate ahead of the point of impact due to the action of the jet.
It is now possible to explain the mechanism of welding. The high velocity
re-entrant jet sweeps the surface of the parent plate and it picks up by surface
traction a thin layer from the top surface of the parent plate. Effectively the
lower surface of the flyer plate has been peeled off and the top surface of the
parent plate has been scraped off, leaving two absolutely clean and uncon-

sin p
c. -
Fig. 8. Flow configuration in region of collision.

taminated surfaces which are brought together under pressure at the point of
impact. The essential conditions for welding are achieved without melting
or the need to plastically deform the metals to break up the oxide or contamin-
ant film on the surfaces. As a consequence the limitations imposed by fusion
or pressure welding do not apply to explosive welding. Fig. 8 shows the flow
configuration in the region of impact. If sections DBA and EFG are considered,
then layers BA and E F are removed and points F and B will be brought
together as shown by D'B'F'G'.
The inclined plate technique shown in fig. 4 is necessary in order to get the
velocity of the point of impact less than the speed of sound in the material
of the parent plate, even though the detonation velocity of the explosive may
Pundamentals of Explosive Welding 79

be higher than the velocity of sound, and in order that a fluid metal jet is
created. I n most metals the velocity of sound lies within the range 4000-
5500 m/sec, while most explosives have a detonation velocity in excess of this
range. However, there are a few powder explosives such as Trimonite which
have a much lower detonating velocity, and it is then possible to use a parallel-
plate technique such as that shown in fig. 9. It will be seen that the velocity
of the point of impact is equal to the detonation velocity of the explosive and
an oblique collision is achieved where the effective angle of incidence is
= sin-1-
If the velocity of the plate is 500m/sec and U for Trimonite is 3900m/sec,
then 3
/ = 7' 22'. The spacing between the flyer and parent plates is unimportant
as long as it is sufficient t o allow the flyer plate to accelerate to its terminal
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flyer plate

parent plate

( o 1 before detonation

I_-; -r
7 - - - - - -

parent plate

( b ) a short time after the initiation of detonation

Pig. 9 (a) and ( b ) . Arrangements for explosively welding parallel plates.

4. Experimental investigation
Fig. 4 shows the general arrangement of the inclined plate technique and the
actual set-up is shown in fig. 10. I n the particular experiment shown the flyer
plate is stainless steel and the parent plate is mild steel, the area of the plate
is 2 f t x 1 f t and the weight of explosive sheet is about 3 lb. The detonatioii
of this charge is shown in fig. 11. The parallel-plate technique has also been
used with Trimoiiite powder which is more difficult to handle than Metabel
sheet explosive, but the experimental set-up is otherwise simpler and it would
80 B. Crodand and A . S . Bahrnni
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Fig, 10. Sheet explosive being laid on top of 0yer plate.

ease the task of handling very large plates. There is no reason t o prevent very
large areas of cladding being done by this method, except that the weight of
explosive charge will be correspondingly very large and there are very few
sites sufficiently far away from human habitation and yet close to centres of
industry where such large charges could be detonated.
Up to date it has proved possible to explosively weld stainless steel to steel,
copper to stainless steel, copper to steel, brass to stainless steel, brass to steel,
titanium to steel, aluminium to steel, etc. The mechanical strength of these
various combinations has been exhaustively tested, and it has been found
possible with correct adjustment of the angle of inclination and weight of
explosive charge t o obtain welds of great strength. Frequently the weld is
stronger than the weaker of the two materials being welded, and failure occurs
well away from the joint in the weaker of the two materials. For optimum
strength it has generally been found that the initial angle of inclination should
be 5" or thereabouts.
Fig. 12 shows how the parallel-plate technique can be applied to welding
tubes into end plates, which is a problem of very great practical value in
engineering; for example, in the construction of condensers, feed-heaters,
boilers, etc. I n order to locate the tube, the tube plate is bored to the outside
diameter of the tube, and then for most of the thickness counterbored t o give
a clearance of 1 mm. The ' explosive pack ' is made up out of dental WAX
which also forms the buffer, and ends are fitted with wood plugs with a wood
spigot which can be varied in diameter t o suit the weight of charge needed.
A detonator can be inserted in a hole provided in one of the wood end plugs.
Such a pack is shown being inserted in a tube in fig. 13.
Fundamentals of Explosive Welding 81
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Fig. 11. The explosive is detonated.

So far it has proved possible to weld cupro-nickel and aluminium brass tubes
to brass tube plates; and stainless steel, mild steel and titanium tubes t o mild
steel tube plates. The weld achieved is typical of an explosive weld and its
strength is expected to be similar to that found for the weld between one plate
and another. There remains the question of how many tubes can be welded
simultaneously into a tube plate and if there a.re any problems of interaction
between the shock waves originating a t the same instant from various centres;
this problem is being investigated a t the present time.
F C.P.
82 B . Crossland and A . 8.Bahrani

Fig. 12. Experimental set-up for welding tube to tube plates.

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Fig. 13. The explosive pack ready for insertion into the tube.

5. Metallurgy of explosive welds

Photomicrographs of the weld interface are shown in fig. 14, which show the
characteristic waves which are formed in the explosive welding process. These
waves are produced a t the rate of about 106Jsec and it can be seen that Ohere
are areas of high vorticity in which the rate of shearing will be extremely high.
I n some cases the rate of shear has been so high that the frictional heating has
caused melting in this region, but this melted zone is immediately quenched
by the surrounding bulk of metal resulting in a cast structure, and sometimes
cooling cavities caused by contraction on cooling can be observed. I n these
areas there is a mixture of the two metals which can lead to hitherto unknown
Fuizdamentals of Explosive Welding 83

intermetallic compounds. These new parameters of high rates of shear, high

rates of cooling and high instantaneous pressure have opened up a completely
new field of metallurgy.
Fig. 14 ( a ) shows the wave formation extremely clearly, and the vortex in
front of the wave and the tail behind can be seen in great detail. The flow
of the two surfaces are clearly indicated by the distortion of the crystal structure
of the two steels. Traces of the flyer plate material can usually be found in the
front vortex, though without a micro-probe analyser it is a little difficult to
detect these traces even when very dissimilar metals are being welded together.
Fig. 14 (c) shows stainless steel welded to mild steel, and the dark zone close
to the surface of the mild steel is a ' shocked zone ' which is indicative of the
very high pressure instantaneously applied during impact. This shocked
zone is a consequence of the pressure applied and it can be eliminated by using
less explosive and a greater angle of obliquity. Fig. 14 ( d ) shows the interface
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between titanium and steel, and the white layer is an intermetallic compound
of titanium and steel. The micro-diamond identations which can be seen are
an indication of hardness and it will be noted that the intermetallic compound
is extremely hard, in fact much harder than the hardest of steels. This layer
is not only hard but also extremely brittle and consequently the weld is weak.
However, with the correct welding conditions the intermetallic compound is
not produced except,in the centre of the front vortex as can be seen in fig. 14 (e).
There is still an immense amount of work to be done on the metallurgical
aspect of this work, including electron microscopy and x-ray examination.

0 0010"

Fig. 14. Photomicrographs of the interface of explosively welded metals.

(a)Mild steel welded to mild steel.
84 B. Crossland and A . S. Rahrani
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0 .005"

(b) Copper welded to mild steel.

Fundamentals of Explosive Welding 85
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0 0.010"
(c) Stainless steel welded to mild steel.

0 0.005'
( d ) Titanium welded to mild steel when the welding conditions are not properly
adjusted leading to the formation of hard brittle intermetallic compound
at the interface.
86 B. Crossland and A . S. Bahrani
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0 0.005"

(e) Titanium welded to mild steel when the correct welding conditions are used.

The waves noted at the weld interface are similar to those noted on the nose
of right circular cylinders flred a t lead targets reported by Allen, Mapes and
Wilson (1954). Abrahamson (1961) suggested a mechanism of wave generation
which depended on the salient jet (see fig. 7). From the analysis it will be
seen that the salient jet has a thickness very nearly equal to the thickness of
the flyer plate, and yet waves with a wavelength of 0.05 mm have been noted
in an experiment where the flyer plate was 2 mm thick. It is hardly conceivable
that waves could be laid down a t about 1 Os waves/sec by a mechanism involving
the entire thickness and momentum of the salient jet. Bahrani, Black and
Crossland (1967) have suggested a mechanism of wave generation which is
dependent on the re-entrant jet. For the numerical case given in $ 3 the
re-entrant jet had a thickness of 1.568 per cent of the flyer plate, or for a 2 mm
thick flyer plate a thickness of 0.03 mm which could conceivably give waves
having a wavelength of 0.05mm. They have also provided experimental
evidence which provides strong support for the mechanism they propose.

6. Conclusions
The generation of a high velocity fluid metal jet in the explosive welding
process provides a satisfactory explanation of the mechanism involved in
removing the contaminant surface layers, which is an essential of any welding
process. This process enables strong welds to be produced between metals
which it would be difficult or impossible to weld by any other means. It can
also be applied in situations where conventional welding methods are not,
Fundamentals of Explosive Welding 87

applicable. I n particular the process can be applied to the manufacture of

cladded plate, which is of great value in the chemical industry, or to the age-old
problem of fixing tubes into tube plates so that no leakage can occur.
One of the major practical problems is one of noise and of suitable sibes for
such work. At present, experiments are being carried out to investigate the
possibility of carrying out this process in a large vacuum chamber to overcome
this problem. Preliminary tests indicate that this idea holds great promise.
The metallurgical problems which arise from this work are considerable, as
several new and important parameters are involved in this process. Further
work involving electron microscopy and x-ray examination is being carried
out to investigate some of the new materials found at the interface in an
explosively welded joint.

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ABRAHAMSON, G . R., 1961, J . Appl. Mech., Trans. Amer. Soc. Mech. Engrs., 83
(series E), 519.
ALLEN,W. A., MAPES, J. M., and WILSON, W. G., 1954, J . Appl. Phys., W,675.
BAHRANI,A. S., BLACK, T. J., and CROSSLAND,B., 1967, Proc. Roy. Soc. A, 288,123.
E. M., and TAYLOR, G . I., 1948, J . AppZ.
Phys., 19, 563.
BOWDEN, F. P., and TABOR, D., 1954, The Friction and Lubrication of Solids (Oxford
University Press).
KELLER, D. V., 1963, Wear, 6,353.

The Autlwrs:
B. Crossland served an engineeriug apprenticeship with Messrs. Holls Royce Ltd. He graduated
in Mechanical Engineering from Nottingham University. Subsequently he became an Assistant
Lecturer, then Lecturer and finally Senior Lecturer in the University of Bristol. He was appointed
to the Chair of Mechanical Engineering at the Queen’s University of Belfast in 1959.
A. S. Bahrani was born in Baghdad and received his primary and secondary education there.
He came to the United Kingdom in 1948 to study Mechanical Engineering a t the Queen’s University
of Belfast where he graduated B.Sc. wilh honours in 1952 and M.Sc. in 1953. From 1954 to 1962
he was employed by the Iraqi Ports Administration, Basrah, in various capacities. He returned
to the University of Belfast in 1062 to carry out research on high rate forming and welding of
metals. H e was awarded a Ph.D. in 1965 and was appointed Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering
the aame year.