Sir Robin Buchanan Nicholson, FRS FREng (born 12 August 1934) is a British industrial metallurgist and academic, who served as Chief Scientific Adviser, Cabinet Office, from 1983 to 1985. He then joined the board of Rolls-Royce plc, where he served until 2005. He was also a non-executive board member of BP plc and Pilkington plc.[1]

Early life and education

Nicholson was born in Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire,[2] to Carroll Nicholson and Nancy Esther Levi. After attending Oundle School, Nicholson studied natural sciences at St Catharine's College, Cambridge, gaining a BA in 1956, followed by a PhD in metallurgy in 1959.[1]

He was a fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge, from 1962 to 1966, and was made a lecturer in metallurgy at Cambridge in 1964, before becoming professor of metallurgy at the University of Manchester in 1966. He joined the European subsidiary of the nickel company Inco in 1972, initially to be the director of its research laboratory, becoming a director in 1975, and managing director from 1976-1981.[1]

He was elected in 1980 as a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.[3]

In 1981 he joined the Central Policy Review Staff in the Cabinet Office, before becoming Chief Scientific Adviser, Cabinet Office from 1983-85. He was also a member of the Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC) from 1978 to 1981, and a member of the UK Government's Council for Science and Technology (CST) from its inception in March 1993 to March 2000.[4] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in March 1978.[5]

He then re-joined the private sector, becoming a director of Pilkington plc and Rolls-Royce plc in 1986; and BP plc in 1987, where as chairman of the remuneration committee until 2005 he was several times the target of public criticism for approving steep increases in executive pay.[6]

Nicholson was elected to the (US) National Academy of Engineering in 1983, with a citation for his leadership in government/industry engineering policy, in bio-engineering, in theory of precipitation hardening in metals (his research field in the early 1960s), and in solar energy materials systems.

Nicholson was the first chairman of the National Energy Foundation, from its inception in 1988 until replaced by Mary Archer in 1990; he remained on its board of trustees until 1996.[7]

In 1998, he published Science and Technology in the United Kingdom in the series of Cartermill Guides to World Science & Technology. [8]

Nicholson was a Member of Council of Exeter University until 2011.

Personal life

In 1958, Nicholson married Elizabeth Mary Caffyn, daughter of Sir Sydney Caffyn. They had two daughters and a son. Elizabeth Mary died in 1988. In 1991 he married Yvonne Elshaw.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Mosley, Charles, ed. (2003). Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knighthood (107 ed.). Burke's Peerage & Gentry. p. 2894. ISBN 0-9711966-2-1.
  2. ^ England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1916-2007
  3. ^ "List of Fellows".
  4. ^ See CST website
  5. ^ "Lists of Royal Society Fellows 1660-2007". London: The Royal Society. Archived from the original on 24 March 2010. Retrieved 3 October 2010.
  6. ^ e.g. Richard Wray, Investors brand BP pay deals obscene, The Guardian, 15 April 2005
  7. ^ See NEF website
  8. ^ Who's Who, 1998: p. 1465
Government offices
Preceded by
Dr John Ashworth
Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government
Succeeded by
Sir John Fairclough