Janet Folkes, 1959-2012

February 9, 2012

Both as an engineer and a world record-breaking balloonist, Janet Folkes was a high-flyer.

Born on 20 July 1959, Dr Folkes grew up in Nottingham and studied at the University College of Wales Aberystwyth for her undergraduate degree in chemistry and geology, going on to complete a master's degree in solid-state chemistry at the institution in 1981.

She moved to Imperial College London to study for a PhD in the laser surface treatment of titanium and titanium alloys, which was awarded in 1986.

Dr Folkes went on to work at Loughborough University as a laser safety specialist and research fellow before leaving academia in 1990 to join Nissan as a research engineer. She remained in industry for a number of years, including a seven-year stint at Lindstrand Balloons, where she was a material technologist.

In 2001 she returned to academic life as research fellow in engineering at the University of Nottingham. She left the university in 2003, but rejoined in 2006 as senior research fellow, becoming lecturer in manufacturing engineering in 2007.

Away from academia, Dr Folkes was known for her love of hot-air ballooning; she began participating in the sport in 1984 and went on to set more than 50 world records, many of which still stand. She also was a keen skydiver and a helicopter pilot.

Joel Segal, lecturer in manufacturing engineering at Nottingham, said that Dr Folkes was a person who "inspired people and inspired their respect".

"She was very clever, but she wasn't cocky with it. She had a lovely humble modesty about her. She was loyal, with a strong sense of collegiate responsibility," he recalled.

He added that she was a "very warm and generous person who never had a bad word to say about anyone.

"Getting along with people was a key part of how she approached her work. When she could, she would join in with walking to the pub and having a pint and a chat."

Dr Segal said that this collegiality was best typified by a small group project that both he and Dr Folkes worked on: "We used to enjoy our group meetings so much that after the project finished we continued having our group meetings, which would usually involve cake of some kind that Janet would buy from her local Women's Institute in the village where she lived."

William Steen, emeritus professor at the University of Liverpool, taught Dr Folkes as a research student at Imperial. He said the world had lost a "courageous and adventurous person. She was an example of how to live life fully and in an interesting way. It was a privilege to have known her," he added.

Dr Folkes died of cancer on 17 January.


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