A mechanical engineer from the University of Leeds has joined a world-famous roll of honor that includes Sir David Attenborough, JK Rowling and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh.

Professor Duncan Dowson CBE, former Pro-Vice Chancellor and Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Leeds, has been made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) - the highest accolade given by Scotland's National Academy of Science and Letters. He joins a select list that includes world-famous researchers, Nobel prize-winners and leading figures from the arts and members of the UK royal family.

During his 60 years in mechanical engineering research, Professor Dowson has risen to prominence as a world-leading expert in friction, wear and lubrication or 'tribology' - a term that he helped to coin. He has authored or co-authored many peer-reviewed papers on subjects relevant to the mechanics of moving systems, such as engines and traction drives, and to the emerging field of biomedical engineering.

His interest in the lubrication, friction and wear of moving parts led initially to a position as a research engineer in the aircraft industry. However, he was lured back to Leeds after a chance meeting with his former research supervisor on a train, just a few days before he was due to take up a post in Canada.

He subsequently established a pioneering Institute of Tribology and - together with the late Professor Verna Wright, an eminent rheumatologist - he founded a bioengineering group for the study of human joints and a university-wide centre for studies in medical engineering. Both tribology and biomedical engineering are actively pursued today within the University of Leeds' School of Mechanical Engineering through two research institutes - the Institute of Engineering Thermofluids, Surfaces and Interfaces (iETSI) and the Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (iMBE). 

Professor Duncan Dowson said:  "This award really is a great honour. I certainly feel a sense of pride when I see how tribology and biomedical engineering have flourished at Leeds and internationally, knowing that in some small way, the work that I have done has contributed to both. I have greatly enjoyed teaching and research at Leeds. However, one of the most rewarding aspects of my career has been the daily interaction with bright minds, up-and-coming students and researchers, who are going to take tribology and biomedical engineering into the future."

The Royal Society of Edinburgh has just 66 honorary Fellows out of its total fellowship of 1551. Its multidisciplinary fellowship - spanning science, arts, humanities, the professions and commerce - makes the RSE unique amongst learned Societies in the UK. Each successful candidate must survive a rigorous four-stage selection process, culminating in a postal ballot to the entire Fellowship.

The Society's roll-call of Honorary Fellows currently includes the artist Dame Elizabeth Blackadder, the former secretary general of NATO Lord George Robertson, and the Nobel prize-winner remembered for discovering the double-helix structure of DNA, Professor James Watson.

Professor David Barton, Head of the School of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Leeds, said: "This is great honour for Duncan and also to the School and I would like to offer my sincere congratulations. The award reflects his enormous contributions over many years to both his own particular areas of research and to the wider engineering community."

Professor Dowson will be formally admitted to the Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh at a ceremony on 16 May.The Faculty of Engineering at the University of Leeds is amongst the top 10 in the UK for research, according to 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), with 75% of its activity rated as 'internationally excellent' or 'world leading'. The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. The University's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015. www.leeds.ac.uk