The School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering has its origins in the Department of Physics and Electrical Engineering in the Manchester Municipal School of Technology.

A brief history

Sackville building, University of Manchester
Sackville Street Building


In 1905, Professor A Schwartz was appointed the first Professor and Head of the Department of Electrical Engineering. At this time, electrical engineering comprised mainly the study of electrical machines for drives and for the generation of electricity. Some metrology and electrical chemistry was also taught.


After the Second World War undergraduate degree courses began to grow in size and scope and power systems and high voltage engineering together with the newer subjects of electronic engineering, automatic control and communication engineering entered the curriculum.

The Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM), nicknamed Baby, was the world's first stored-program computer and it was developed in the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at The University of Manchester. It was designed and built by Frederic C. Williams and Tom Kilburn and it ran its first program on 21 June 1948.


The appointment of Professor Colin Adamson as Head of Department in 1962 and the expansion of the university sector in the early 1960s led to a further expansion of the Department. This saw the introduction of the new areas of Solid State Electronics and Digital Processes incorporated into teaching and research.

By 1964 the academic staff had risen to 32, including two Professors, and this growth was continued over the next decades. The newly introduced taught Masters degree courses meant that postgraduate numbers also grew rapidly and, as a consequence, so did research activity.

1970s and 1980s

During the 1970s and 1980s it was not uncommon for the numbers of MSc and PhD degrees awarded by the Department each year to exceed the number of undergraduate degrees.

More recently, as the undergraduate class sizes have increased due to the availability of a wider range of taught programmes, including four year MEng courses, this trend has been reversed.

Recent success

The School has proved successful in all recently introduced quality measures, including the Research Assessment Exercise, the Teaching Quality Assessment and the IEE Accreditation of undergraduate programmes. The School came into being just as the former Department reached its centenary. During this time nearly 1,000 PhD and 3,000 MSc degrees were awarded in addition to the countless BSc, BEng and MEng graduations.

The current School has over 70 academic staff, with more than a quarter of these being Professors, and the challenge now is to carry forward this new structure and to continue the successes of the old Department.

Our pioneers

Meet just some of the significant people who have taught, researched and studied electrical and electronic engineering at The University of Manchester and the organisations which came before it.

  • Beatrice (Tilly) Shilling OBE PhD MSc CEng was a British aeronautical engineer and motor racer. After school she worked for an electrical engineering company for three years, installing wiring and generators. Her employer encouraged her to study electrical engineering at the Victoria University of Manchester. She received her bachelor's degree in 1932 and stayed on for a year to get a Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering. During World War II, she invented "Miss Shilling's orifice", a fix for the Rolls-Royce Merlin engines of the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire fighters, which prevented engine flooding in a dive.

  • Stephen Butterworth was a British physicist who invented the Butterworth filter, a class of electrical circuits that are used to separate different frequencies of electrical signals. He received his bachelors and MSc in Physics from the Manchester Municipal College of Technology, before lecturing in the subject for 11 years. The Butterworth filter is a widely applied solution to the task of filtering electrical signals according to their frequency. Its theory provides the basis for extensive application across analog circuit design and digital signal processing.

  • Colin Adamson joined UMIST in 1952 and established a Power System Lab. In 1961, he became Chairman of the Electrical Engineering Department, and oversaw the expansion of the department into the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering as we know it today. He led the development establishment of a taught MSc degree in Electrical Power Systems in 1963, which is now the longest continuously operating “Power Systems” MSc course in the world.

  • Martin Wedepohl CEng, FIEE, FEIC completed his PhD at UMIST in 1957. In 1964, Martin was appointed as a lecturer of the electrical engineering department of UMIST. He was promoted to senior lecturer in 1966, professor of power systems in 1967 and was chairman of the department from 1969 to 1974. His main area of research was in the theory of wave propagation in multi conductor transmission lines. This theory was used in the solution of a number of problems of importance to engineers concerned with power transmission lines.

  • Howard Rosenbrock was a leading figure in control theory and control engineering. He studied Electrical Engineering at UCL and London Univeristy, and worked at Cambridge University before being awarded a Chair at UMIST. In 1966 he founded the Control Systems Centre as an interdisciplinary department.  Under his guidance the Control Systems Centre quickly established itself as the world leading group in control system analysis and design. He was a pioneer of multivariable frequency domain control design methods, and made important contributions to the numerical solution of stiff differential equations and in the development of parameter optimization methods. 

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