Obituary: Professor Michael J. Lalor

It is with great sadness that the university has learned of the passing of Professor Michael J. Lalor aged 79 on 6th May 2020. Michael (Mike) Lalor was a pioneer of research in engineering, where for over 40 years he inspired generations of research students, taking the quantity and quality of research from a relatively low baseline up to international levels during his career.

Mike was born a Wacker in Birkenhead in 1940. He came into the world with bombs falling round his infant ears in the middle of a German air-raid. After being encouraged to work hard at school, as a pupil at St Francis Xavier College (SFX) in Liverpool, he completed a degree in Physics and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Liverpool. After a brief period teaching Maths at SFX, in 1969 he was recruited as a Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical, Marine & Production Engineering at the former Liverpool Polytechnic. He had a remit to develop research and worked his way up to become the first ever Professor of Engineering Optics in England, 1988, a position not available when he started his career at the Polytechnic.

Early work in optics and laser gauging expanded into Laser Doppler Anemometry, holographic measurement, fringe projection and fibre optic sensors. A vibrant and inclusive research environment produced a confident research group that stated they could measure anything from minuscule human cancer cells to the enormous wings of an Airbus jet aeroplane, and actually did it.

To consolidate the research, The Coherent and Electro-Optics Research Group (CEORG) emerged in the 1970s led by Michael Lalor from Mechanical Engineering and Allan Hobson from Electrical Engineering. It was an ideal match of optical and electronic measurement and processing, and an engine room for gaining research funding for new ideas. It was also a factory for producing PhDs. Mike worked with many students, post-docs, colleagues and external collaborators to become one of the first LJMU staff members to bring in research funding totalling over one million pounds. One of the many young researchers that he mentored, David Burton, became a lifelong colleague, collaborator and friend. Dave’s computing knowledge dovetailed perfectly with Mike’s optics expertise. They enjoyed great success together and won many accolades on a world stage.

Mike’s academic legacy lies in a significantly important scientific contribution. It is evidenced through over 100 high quality published papers and via the many former researchers and colleagues who have benefited from working with Mike. They carry on his academic tradition in many parts of the world to this day. Mike supervised over 50 PhD students and acted as personal advisor and mentor to many more. He particularly enjoyed his daily afternoon visits to his Basement Laboratory in Byrom Street, where he would interact with students and help them in any way he could. His pastoral care was second to none. Not only was Mike an excellent academic, he enjoyed the personal touch and would go out of his way to help new students settle in. There was nobody better to show them how to do research. 

As research funding and reputation grew, CEORG and the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Research Laboratory (AMTReL) were joined ready for submission to the UK government research evaluation exercises. This new combination and Mike’s research contributions led to extremely high grades in the UK government research evaluations which led to a Grade 5 in General Engineering RAE96: which indicated Research quality that equates to attainable levels of international excellence in some sub-areas of activity and to attainable levels of national excellence in virtually all others. This extremely high rating, indicating that our research was internationally excellent, shocked many other more established Universities who were graded well below a “New University”. When awarded an excellent grade it is much more difficult to maintain it, but excellence was endorsed again in RAE2001 with another Grade 5 and twice the number of research staff submitted. The only universities with higher ratings in General Engineering over these two assessment periods were Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial College London.

Based on this success, in 2002, CEORG and AMTReL formally merged and The General Engineering Research Institute (GERI) was formed, amalgamating several existing research groups from the School of Engineering. Mike was co-director of GERI until his retirement in 2011.

Mike enjoyed going to conferences and spreading his academic network far and wide. This led to many successful European Projects. He liked nothing better than after a hard day’s work lingering over a bottle of red during dinner, or taking his PhD students to the bar for further discussions. He was a truly world academic, visiting many countries across the globe during his work. He supervised students of many Nationalities, treating all of them with dignity, gentle humour and respect. He was a very positive, calm and organised person, so please remember him as he would have liked, by cherishing the many happy memories that so many of us will have of Mike’s outstanding achievements and contributions to the continuing success of LJMU.

Mike was not only a highly respected and hardworking academic, but had a number of external interests, most notably golf and Liverpool FC. Mike enjoyed his family life and was supported throughout his career by his loving wife Rosa. He is survived by two daughters and three grandchildren. A requiem mass is planned after the lockdown to celebrate his life.


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