50 years of computing at Manchester
- 1947 - 1951: The "Baby" and Manchester Mark 1
- 1951 - 1956: Foundation of a computer service
- 1956 - 1963: The Ferranti Atlas
- 1964 - 1966: Foundation of the Computer Science Department
- 1966 - 1979: MU5, another Manchester computer
- 1979 - 1987: Expansion
- 1988: A new building
- The 1990s: Building on excellence
- The 2000s: Exploiting synergy with other disciplines
1947 - 1951 : The "Baby" and Manchester Mark 1
The Department of Computer Science was formed in 1964, but its history starts in December 1946, when F.C. Williams was appointed Professor to head the Electrical Engineering Department. He brought Tom Kilburn with him from his radar research group at Malvern to work full time on devising the first effective random access electronic storage device for use in computers, using a Cathode Ray Tube. During 1947 they produced such a device. To test it Kilburn designed a small computer, the "Baby", and it first worked on the 21st June 1948. This was the world's first stored-program computer, a true universal computer, where changing a program would take minutes rather than days.
By October 1949, the team had built the full-sized Manchester Mark 1, the first computer with a fast random access two-level store (i.e. with a magnetic drum 'backing' store, the ancestor of the hard disc). This was used as the prototype for the first manufactured production computer, the Ferranti Mark 1, the first one being delivered, to the department, in February 1951.
1951 - 1956 : Foundation of a computer service
Professor Williams F.R.S. now handed over active management of computer research to Tom Kilburn, who ran the Computer Group within the department. Tony Brooker took over software management from Dr. Alan Turing F.R.S. who had joined the Department of Mathematics late in 1948. The group stayed at the leading edge of computer development worldwide into the early 1970s. By 1954 they had built MEG, a floating-point machine that was the topic of the PhD thesis of Dai Edwards and turned into the Ferranti Mercury, and a Transistor Computer, turned into the Metro-Vickers MV950. They built up a large Computing Service on the Ferranti Mark 1, which was used by 20 to 30 organisations outside the University. Tony Brooker produced the first "high-level" language, the Mark 1 Autocode, in 1954. The Computing Service moved to a Ferranti Mercury in 1958 and Brooker produced a more powerful Mercury Autocode. The Ferranti Mercury became a workhorse for the U.K. scientific community in the early 1960s, one that was acknowledged in the Flowers report on University Computing published in 1965.
1956 - 1963 : The Ferranti Atlas
The hardware design team now started work on a computer, MUSE, one thousand times faster than the Ferranti Mark 1. This required an explosion of innovative techniques, both to create the maximum speed possible, and then to solve the hardware and software problems of handling the massive throughput of programs it made possible (e.g. in practice a thousand a day). Together with two parallel projects in the U.S., this laid the foundation for the hardware and software of the large mainframes of the 60s and 70s. Ferranti joined the project in 1959, now called Atlas, and made a major contribution to the large operating system. The main world contribution stemming uniquely from Manchester was Virtual Memory, and on the software side the Compiler Compiler, a language for writing compilers. The first Ferranti Atlas was inaugurated in the department in 1962, with the software fully operational the next year. At this time it was the fastest and most sophisticated computer in the world.
1964 - 1966 : Foundation of the Computer Science Department
In 1964, the Computer Group broke away from the Electrical Engineering Department to form the Department of Computer Science. An undergraduate course in Computer Science was set up in October 1965, with around 30 undergraduates a year. Head of Department was Professor Tom Kilburn, F.R.S. The undergraduate course was to be distinctive relative to most of the Computer Science departments that sprung up after it in the U.K. in that there was a strong emphasis on engineering as well as software and mathematics. Dai Edwards became Professor of Computer Engineering in 1966 and then ICL Professor in 1967 due to the generous support given by ICL as a reward for the work done by the Computer group for them.
1966 - 1979 : MU5, another Manchester computer
The last major computer designed and built by Tom Kilburn's team and supported by an SRC grant of £630,000 was MU5. This provided a novel architecture that was geared to the needs of programs written in high-level languages. Professor Derrick Morris took over the software leadership. MU5 first ran in 1972, with the matching operating system and family of compilers fully operational by 1974. The basic architecture design of MU5 was incorporated in the ICL VME2900 series, and could still be seen in ICL products two decades later. MU5 was used in the Department until 1980 supported by a further SRC grant of £130,000 for 1973.
In 1971 the department moved into a purpose-built building costing £1.7M, with the University of Manchester Regional Computing Centre on the ground floor. By now the Computing Service operation, that had built up to a massive operation under Atlas, had become an autonomous University unit, UMRCC. It used independent commercial mainframes now that the Manchester Atlas had reached the end of its life.
1979 - 1987 : Expansion
SRC provided a grant of £219,300 to Professors Edwards, Sumner and Morris to design and build MU6, a computer for running advanced applications. This processor continued the language-oriented design philosophy of its predecessor whilst taking advantages of high-speed technology advances to implement a simpler high-performance design. Innovative features included virtual memory support hardware, virtual-addressed buffer memories and a microprocessor-based diagnostic controller which had read/write access to all machine state and control of the processor clock thus facilitating diagnostic procedures. The software operating support was provided by Professor Morris's group.
In 1980 Tom Kilburn relinquished his position as Head of Department to Dai Edwards and retired permanently in 1981. Professor Edwards remained as Head until 1987 during which period the general background for the University was one of economic cuts. Fortunately there were several National Initiatives appropriate to Computer Science which the Department was able to bid for--Information Technology posts from 1983 to 1986, the Engineering Technology programme from 1986 to 1989 and for research the Alvey programme. The net resullt was that the Department expanded its academic complement of 35 to 55 with a further 4 posts promised for 1988/9, the number of professors increased from 4 to 8 and academic-realted staff from 50 to 89. The Undergraduate intake too was increased from 120 to 200 per year and significant equipment and funds were provided so that all students in Computer Science were taught mainly using a high performance workstation approach.
The Department of Computer Science was awarded a Grade 5 (excellent) in the UFC Research Assessment exercise of 1985.
1988 : A new building
The Engineering Technology programme supported our bid for more space with a grant of £1.5M and this resulted in a further new building, the Information Technology Laboratories, being opened to house part of the Computer Science and Electrical Engineering departments. This building includes full "Clean Room" facilities for chip manufacture. The opening ceremony was performed by HRH The Princess Royal on 21st June 1988, the 40th anniversary of running the first program on the "Baby" machine.
Flagship project and its successor the major EU project EDS. Leads to the ICL Goldrush machine.
Intelligent File Store is awarded the BCS Silver Medal for Technical Achievement.
The Department of Computer Science awarded a Grade 5 in the HEFCE Research Assessment exercise.
MAVERIK, a publicly available virtual reality (VR) system, developed by the Advanced Interfaces Group.
2004 : Exploiting synergy with other disciplines
The Department of Computer Science became the School of Computer Science as a result of the merger between the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology and the Victoria University of Manchester.
Vampire (a Theorem Prover for First-Order Classical Logic) wins the CASC World Theorem Proving championship for the sixth time.