Materials expert Dr Philippa Moore joined Hawkins in 2022 and is based in the Cambridge office. We recently interviewed Philippa to get an insight as to what is needed to be a forensic investigator and what she enjoys most about the role.
Philippa specialises in materials failures, escape of water and oil, and mechanical and engineering failures. With extensive experience in forensic investigations, Philippa has published over 45 conference and journal papers on her academic research, and on topics supporting her involvement on British and International standards committees for fracture testing.
How did you get into your chosen field?
I studied metallurgy at university, drifting into that from physics following a summer job at British Steel that got me interested in the tangible link between microstructures you can reveal at high magnification, and the properties of the structures that the steel is used for. Welds are good ways to make lots of interesting microstructures therefore I focused my PhD on this. Adding an interest in welding engineering, and carrying out some structural integrity assessments, along with engineering failure investigations along my career path, has led me to where I am today at Hawkins.
What attributes do you need to be a forensic investigator?
Having an interested and enquiring mind and being able to see the big picture whilst understanding the finer details. Having consideration and sensitivity for the people you speak to, for example, those whose homes might have been damaged, while keeping focused on gathering the evidence you need to do a robust investigation.
Often failures occur due to a ‘sequence of unfortunate events’ and it can be interesting to pick apart the story of what might have happened based on sometimes unusual observations. When an answer appears that fits all of the evidence it can be a satisfying ‘lightbulb’ moment.
What do you love most about what you do?
The variety. Within a week I could be preparing to give evidence in court on one day, I could be on site getting wet or oily while investigating an escape of water or equipment failure on another. On the next day I could be in the lab looking at corroded metal under a microscope and then at my desk writing it all up as clearly and concisely as possible for my client. I enjoy all of these aspects!
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Having the knowledge and experience to be able to look at the evidence that I have collected and unlock the story of what has happened, particularly when a case has come in with relatively scant detail at first.
“When an answer appears that fits all of the evidence it can be a satisfying ‘lightbulb’ moment.”
What advice would you give to somebody setting out on their career to be a forensic investigator?
While you are developing your own specialised area of expertise, never be afraid to keep learning about a wide range of other or things, because you never know when those little bits of knowledge could come in useful.
Where do you see the industry going in the future?
The increasing availability of video footage, from CCTV and from individuals recording incidents on their phones in real time, brings an additional perspective which can be really helpful for escape of water and engineering cases, and not just fire investigations.
How do you like to spend your time outside of work?
I’m a drummer and singer in a classic rock band called Three Phase, and have recently joined a new pirate metal band as well, called Bilge Rats. I don’t get to play as many gigs as I’d like, but I find drumming helps me let off steam and makes me feel happy.
What’s something you’ve done, but you’ll never do again?
Fight with the Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Hastings. For context; I’m a battle re-enactor, and we ‘do’ Hastings each year. Normally I’m an archer on the Norman side, and it’s great fun shooting arrows up the hill at Harold’s army. One year (many years ago now), the numbers between the two sides were uneven and so some of us got swapped. Standing in a shield wall at the top of the hill while knights on horseback charge at you, and arrows are dropping around you, isn’t as much fun!
In addition to investigations covering issues such as escape of water claims, cracks in glass, and product and engineering failures, Philippa has also provided expertise on topics related to welding engineering, materials science & metallurgy, failure modes in metals, and structural integrity.
If you would like to learn more about the types of incidents and investigations that Hawkins can undertake, you can join our join our latest webinar series which covers some of Hawkins’ expertise in the built environment, and marine sectors as well as topics involving fires and escapes of water.
Register for our latest webinar series: Hawkins Events