Work hard, play hard (Day 269)

IChemE foam finger bus55 years ago, a chemical engineering professor with a passion for sport and a strong sense of fun initiated an annual football game between the chemical engineering departments at Birmingham and Manchester Universities in the UK.

That professor’s name was Frank Morton, and he had strong connections with both departments having taught in Birmingham where he rose to professor, before moving to Manchester as the first head of chemical engineering at the new Manchester College of Technology in 1956.

And his passion for fun lives on in the annual Frank Morton Sports Day

Frank was a firm believer in the principle that chemical engineering students should work hard and play hard. This year’s participants certainly didn’t let him down.

The 2015 Frank Morton Sports Day took place at Frank’s old stamping ground in Birmingham earlier this week, and had he been there to witness the event, I’m sure that he would have had a huge smile on his face.

Frank was a pivotal figure at IChemE in his time. He was a member of the Institution’s governing Council and he’s mentioned in clause 12 of our Royal Charter.

FM medalHe also served as IChemE President in 1963 and the theme of his presidency was chemical engineering skills supply – some things don’t change.

Frank died in 1999 and his memory is preserved in a number of ways. The pilot plant at the University of Manchester is named the Morton Laboratory and IChemE’s top award for excellence in chemical engineering education and training – one of Frank’s many passions – carries his name.

But it’s the eponymous sports day that ensures his name lives on.

IChemE UK staff at Frank Morton 2015

The modern Frank Morton Sports Day is a massive operation and although IChemE’s UK staff offer friendly advice and support, the project management is entirely down to a team of chemical engineering undergraduates.

By 9 am on Tuesday morning, the National Indoor Arena (NIA) in Birmingham was thronging with over 2,500 competitors and spectators from all parts of the British Isles.

Teams from almost every department of chemical engineering in the UK and Ireland had travelled through the night to participate in the biggest ‘Frank Morton’ in history.

By all accounts, the event has grown so big that the organising committee asked the city council to close the roads around the arena. The council refused, which made for some interesting traffic management when 55 coaches turned up to transport the competitors to venues all over the city.

Quidditch - FM
Quidditch at Frank Morton 2015

The 19 competitions ranged from predictable activities – football, netball and hockey; to the unusual – crazy golf; through to the downright bizarre, with Harry Potter’s favourite sport, Quidditch, making it into the programme for the first time.

Competition was keen, but as the day progressed it became clear that home advantage was going to play a key role for the second year running. The hosts, Birmingham, triumphed by a considerable margin over 2014 winners Strathclyde, with Manchester in third place.

The success of the Frank Morton Sports Day tells us three things.

First, it’s clear that the undergraduate community in the UK is thriving, and that it enjoys a real sense of identity. The growth of the event can be largely attributed to the major expansion of intake to first degree programmes over the last decade – September 2014 saw 3,575 undergraduates commence their studies.

Imperial College at Frank Morton 2015
Imperial College at Frank Morton 2015

IChemE’s whynotchemeng campaign, which promotes chemical engineering careers can take some of the credit for this state of affairs, and the presence of teams from new university departments, such as Huddersfield and Hull, is very encouraging.

Second, anyone who thinks that chemical engineering students are dull and boring needs to think again. The sight of 2,500 young men and women decamping from the Gatecrasher nightclub in Birmingham’s Broad Street in the small hours of Wednesday morning would have left you in no doubts that these kids know how to party!

Finally, the scale of the event and the planning that was required to make it all happen is mightily impressive. So much so, that I want to thank the entire committee:

Frank Morton 2015 organising committee
Frank Morton 2015 organising committee

Katie Aiston – President
Sophie Collier – Vice President
Gemma Hollins – Treasurer
Natasha Mudhar – Company Liaison
Aaron Thompson – Company Liaison
Adam Cullen – Transport
Zoe Preece – Sports
Grace Hayward – Sports
Matt Keith – University Liaison
Rosanna Jones – Evening co-ordinator
Guy Hart – Ceremonies
Alice Ch’ng – Media and Advertising
Alex George – Media and Advertising

Thank you all for your hard work!

They delivered the biggest engineering student sports day in British history, and did the University of Birmingham, our community and (most importantly) themselves proud . They ensure that the legend of Frank Morton continues.

I am certain that these young chemical engineering students will go on to demonstrate that chemical engineering matters in the years to come – albeit with less clearing up and fewer hangovers.

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