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Robert Silver

Born 13 March 1913, Montrose, Scotland.
Died 21 April 1997.

An internationally honoured mechanical engineer whose system for desalination was adopted as an industry standard.

Connection to the University of Glasgow: Alumnus, Professor
GU Degrees: MA, 1932; BSc, 1934; PhD, 1938; DSc, 1945;

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The following achievement is associated with Robert Silver:

Multistage Flash Distillation System for desalination
Robert Silver invented the Multistage Flash (MSF) Distillation System to desalinate seawater, which made an outstanding contribution to humanitarian and economic progress.


The following honours are associated with this person:


Robert Simpson Silver (1913-1997) was a graduate of the University and held the James Watt Chair of Mechanical Engineering.

Silver was born in Montrose and educated at Montrose Academy. This was followed by the University of Glasgow from where he graduated MA in 1932 and, two years later, BSc with First Class Honours in Natural Philosophy. He was awarded a PhD by the University in 1938.

Following graduation, Silver pursued a career in research and development in industry. He worked as a research physicist with ICI (Explosives) for three years. During the Second World War, he was Head of Research at G & J Weir Ltd where his major work was with the Admiralty improving warship pumps, boilers and the small onboard immersed-tube desalinators. He later worked for the Gas Research Board, Federated Foundries Ltd and John Brown Land Boilers Ltd. He returned to G & J Weir Ltd in 1956 as Chief of Development and Research and was promoted to Director in 1958.

Immediately after the Second World War, he turned his attention to the redesign of coal-burning fireplaces, which were used in homes and offices all over the United Kingdom. His analysis of the heat balance of these fireplaces resulted in redesigns that saved tons of coal and helped reduce air pollution.

Silver left G & J Weir in 1962 to take up an appointment as Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Heriot-Watt College in Edinburgh. He moved to the University of Glasgow in 1966 to become James Watt Professor of Mechanical Engineering. He held the James Watt Chair until his retirement in 1979.

In 1967, he was awarded a CBE and, in 1980, he was elected as a Foreign Associate of the US Academy of Engineering. His contribution to engineering and human wellbeing was recognised in 1968 with the award to him of the Unesco Prize for Science.

Professor Robert Simpson Silver's world changing entry was published in recognition of his invention of the Multistage Flash (MSF) Distillation System to desalinate seawater, without which many arid countries in the Middle East would have no water supply.