History

Computing at Newcastle has a long and prestigious history. The original Computing Laboratory, founded in 1957 served a dual function, providing computing support as well as taking an academic role. In 1992 the University chose to separate the functions and today the School of Computing Science serves the academic function alongside the support provision of Information Systems and Services. In 1997, the Laboratory celebrated its 40th anniversary with a half-day seminar.

In the early 1960s the Laboratory awarded its first postgraduate qualifications, and then, in 1967, became one of the first UK universities to teach an undergraduate degree programme in Computing Science. Today, undergraduate and postgraduate students make up a community of over 700, studying with around 125 academic, research, administrative and technical staff in the School. A similar number work in Information Systems and Services supporting the University's IT infrastructure and deployment.

In addition to those images shown below, visit Roger Broughton's webpage to see more photos related to the history of Newcastle computing, and his virtual museum of computing artefacts. We also have a History Theme webpage and Blog for collating materials, documents and photos that are of historical importance to the School.

Timeline:
1957
1964
1967
1969
1974
1979
1984
1991
1997
2000
2001
2004
2006
2011
2012

The early days

1957
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In January 1957 Dr Ewan S Page was appointed Director of the Durham University Computing Laboratory at King's College, Newcastle. The initial focus was for the Laboratory to provide computing support to researchers in both Durham and Newcastle. However, in this new field the provision of education for users was essential and almost immediately this led to the establishment of undergraduate and postgraduate teaching activities, followed very quickly by postgraduate and then undergraduate degree programmes. In 1963, when Newcastle and Durham became separate universities, the Laboratory became part of the new University of Newcastle upon Tyne, whilst maintaining close links with Durham.

The Laboratory was established in a house in Kensington Terrace and spread over the next few years into a number of adjoining houses. The first computer - a Ferranti Pegasus (christened FERDINAND - FERranti DIgital and Numerical Analyser Newcastle and Durham) - was installed in November 1957. Later in that academic year Newcastle became the first British University to teach a course in computer programming to undergraduates, when students in the final year of the Honours degree in Mathematics were offered a course in Numerical Analysis. The Postgraduate Diploma in Numerical Analysis and Automatic Computing was offered from October 1959.

In an era in which there were very few computers, time on the Pegasus was also made available to local industry, which had provided some of the initial funding.

Ewan Page and Pegasus

1964
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KDF9

Demand for computing facilities grew rapidly, and in 1964 the Pegasus was replaced by an English Electric KDF9. The same year saw the promotion of Dr Page to the post of Professor of Computing and Data Processing. This period saw the first high-level languages coming into widespread use, displacing the assemblers and autocodes of earlier years. Internationally Fortran was the most popular, but Newcastle adopted ALGOL 60 as its main teaching language, both because of its more elegant conceptual architecture and - to the great benefit of student programmers - to exploit the greater automatic error detection facilities of its compilers. As on the Pegasus, programs were prepared on paper tape, and loaded into the computer by operators. Program output would be returned some time later - quite possibly not until the next day - on line-printer paper or occasionally on further paper tape. This 24-hour turn-around certainly focussed the mind on producing error-free programs. The Postgraduate Diploma course developed into an MSc course in Computing Science, aimed at graduates in other disciplines. Initially numbers were small, but in later years this course grew very significantly as both students and employers appreciated the benefits of the combination of computing skills allied to other subjects.

Research during this period focussed on automatic typesetting and on medical literature information retrieval. Two typesetting projects were undertaken in collaboration with the Department of Photography, under the direction of the late C.J. Duncan. The first, funded by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) used Pegasus; the second, funded by the Ministry of Technology, used ALGOL 60 on the KDF9. The information retrieval work, which was directed by Elizabeth Barraclough, who had been appointed originally as the computer operator in 1957 and who later became Director of the Computing Service. The work was carried out in collaboration with the US National Library of Medicine and resulted in the development first of the MEDLARS and then the MEDUSA systems.

1967
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1967 was a major year in the development of Computing at Newcastle. In preparation for the arrival of a new computer, an IBM 360 model 67, the Laboratory moved into a new building, Claremont Tower where it remains. Read the brochure for the official opening of the Tower, Claremont Bridge and Daysh Buildings. The 360/67, the first multiple-access computer outside North America, heralded a new style of computing. In addition to batch jobs run from decks of IBM punched cards the 360/67 supported a number of remote access terminals. These terminals gave users something of the illusion of having the machine to themselves - an early precursor of today's PC environment.

After initial experimentation with proprietary time-sharing systems, in 1969 the Laboratory adopted the Michigan Terminal System (MTS) running and, for the next 20 years, helping to develop (with six other universities worldwide) this community-supported system on a succession of mainframes. This decision opened up attractive technical opportunities for those providing the computing service, and had a profound beneficial effect on the calibre of its staff . Together with the growth of academic programmes this initiated a period of significant expansion in the Laboratory. Alongside the arrival of the 360/67 was the creation of the NUMAC organisation - the Northumbrian Universities Multiple Access Computer which recognised the fact that the system was to provide services to both Newcastle and Durham Universities.

1967 has further significance as the year that saw the introduction of the first undergraduate degree programme in Computing Science. Six students attended a short programming course at the end of the first year of their Mathematics degree, and then joined the Laboratory in the second year of the new BSc Honours Degree in Computing Science. They graduated in 1969, making them and a cohort at the University of Manchester the first graduates in Computing from any UK university. This teaching development was followed in the autumn of 1968 by the first of the Newcastle International Seminars on the Teaching of Computing Science - a series sponsored initially by IBM, and subsequently by Amdahl and then ICL that ran for more than 30 years thereafter. A small number of invited speakers presented recent developments in a currently topical research area, and they and the audience discussed how it might be presented in teaching programmes. The proceedings of all seminars in the series are available here.

IBM

1969
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Professor Brian Randell joined the Laboratory in 1969 from IBM's T J Watson Research Center, having earlier worked for English Electric on the Whetstone ALGOL compiler used on KDF9. Randell's appointment led in 1972 to a major research initiative - originally termed "The Reliability Project" - that established a still-continuing 40-year sequence of research projects in the area now termed "System Dependability", encompassing Fault Tolerance, Computer Security, Safety-Critical Systems and related topics. In 1977 the project was awarded the British Computer Society's Technical Achievement Award for its development of Recovery Blocks and the associated "Recovery Cache". Brian also initiated the Laboratory's Technical Report series) for the prompt publication of research results. Visit here to see more than 1,300 such reports.

Teaching also offered new possibilities in 1972 as the department launched the first "advanced" master's degree programme in a UK University, the MSc in Computing Software and System Design, funded through the Science Research Council.

1974
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In 1974 the IBM 360/67 was joined by a more powerful IBM 370/168, again obtained in partnership with Durham and now with Newcastle Polytechnic, who were assured by Professor Page that they would "get more bang for their buck" from the arrangement. Indeed, initially the 168 also provided services to Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities. Other hardware developments included the acquisition by the reliability project of a number of DEC PDP11 mini-computers.

The early experience of time-sharing systems created a very considerable demand for remote access to computing facilities, and inevitably drove initiatives in networking, most notably the campus-wide Nunet network. Introduced in the late 1970s, by 1988 the network supported almost 1,200 remote connections at Newcastle and Durham together with connections to the two (by then Amdahl) mainframes at the two universities, and to national and international services. This work was initially directed by Denis Russell, who was later to become Deputy Director of the Computing Service, and influential in the development of a TCP/IP-based national academic network.

Card punches

1979
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Professor Page, the Laboratory's first Director, became acting Vice-Chancellor of the University in 1979, before taking up the post of Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading in 1981. Professor Harry Whitfield, previously of the Universities of Edinburgh and Groningen, and a major contributor to the development of the Edinburgh Multi-Access System (EMAS) joined the Computing Laboratory as its new Director.

In response to an initiative from British Telecom (now BT), and stimulated by the new availability of readily programmable microelectronic devices, a joint honours degree programme in Computing and Electronic Engineering was revised to become a four-year Master of Engineering degree in Microelectronics and Software Engineering, from which students graduated from 1987 until the late 1990s.

Also in the mid 1980s the Laboratory, and in particular Professor Randell, played an influential role in the establishment of the Microelectronic Applications Research Institute (MARI), a joint venture between Computer Analysts and Programmers (now CAP-Gemini), Newcastle University and Newcastle Polytechnic (now Northumbria University). The company operated successfully for many years, undertaking specialist contract computing research and participating, often as coordinator, in a large number of EU-funded projects. MARI also established a training division based in Gateshead, providing what would now be termed "modern apprenticeships" in this emerging high technology field at a number of centres across the UK.

1984
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The Centre for Software Reliability (CSR) was launched in 1984 under the direction of Professor Tom Anderson. CSR aims to transfer to industry the understanding developed through the years of the reliability project and its successors. CSR ran a number of seminars, initially leading to the establishment of the Software Reliability and Metrics Club, and subsequently (from 1991) the Safety Critical Systems Club, which still runs major national and international technology transfer events. A major component of this activity was a long-running (17-year) research project between Newcastle and York Universities and BAE Systems. Wider industrial involvement was also encouraged through the UNITE industry forum and its newsletter.

In 1985 the Laboratory received a $1M equipment gift from Xerox of advanced personal workstations - machines with a megabyte of memory, a million pixels, and a processor speed of a million instructions per second - together with one of the first Ethernet installations in the UK, providing early experience of the type of computing interface that was to become the hallmark of Apple computers in the following decades. In the same year, following national recognition of the importance of computing science, a number of senior academic posts were created. Lecturers Tom Anderson and Santosh Shrivastava both became Professors, and in 1986 Pete Lee, who had been a researcher on the reliability project in the 1970s, returned to the Laboratory from the USA as a Professor. He brought with him from the Encore Corporation a detailed knowledge of shared memory multiprocessor systems, resulting in the Laboratory's installation in 1987of an Encore Multimax 120 to provide support for parallel processing research. This machine was subsequently upgraded to support student teaching, and an Encore Multimax 520 installed to further the research.

1991
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In 1991, University Senate accepted a proposed separation of the Computing Laboratory with a resolution that "the name Computing Laboratory should no longer be used", splitting the academic and service functions. The two components became the University Computing Service, directed by Elizabeth Barraclough, and the Department of Computing Science. Professor Whitfield chose to concentrate on its academic function, but stepped down as Head of Department in 1992, and was succeeded by Professor Anderson.

The undergraduate BSc degrees in Computing Science and in Software Engineering had been targeted at those seeking to make contributions to the further development of hardware and software technologies. However, by the early 1990s there was an emerging need for graduates with a clear understanding of current technologies and the ability to apply these in novel ways in important applications areas. To cater for this demand the department introduced a new undergraduate programme in Information Systems, with possible components from Business, Accounting and Management. This programme was popular for several years, sometimes attracting more students than the Computing Science degree, though it has recently been discontinued.

The 25th annual Newcastle International Seminar on the Teaching of Computing Science took place in 1992, celebrating with presentations from eight of its most distinguished former speakers, including six holders of the ACM Turing Award. The proceedings of this and all seminars in the series are available here.

1997
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The Laboratory celebrated its 40th anniversary in 1997 with a half-day seminar at which Professor Page was the keynote speaker. Other speakers reported on various aspects of its past achievements.

Professor Anderson stepped down as Head of Department in 1997, becoming Dean of the Faculty of Science. Dr John Lloyd succeeded him as Head. The University undertook a major restructuring in 2002, reducing from more than 70 departments in seven faculties to 27 schools in three faculties. Computing Science retained its identity as a School in the Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering, although the research group in VLSI Systems Design chose to move to the School of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering. Nevertheless the group maintained strong collaboration with former colleagues working on theoretical computer science, especially in the area of asynchronous systems. Dr Lloyd remained as Head of School until 2006, when he became Head of the School of Natural Sciences (now the School of Chemistry).

2000
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Recognition of the strength of the Distributed Systems Research group led by Professor Shrivastava came in 2000 when it was awarded the BCS Technical Achievement Award for its development of the Arjuna middleware system. The department thus joined Cambridge University Computing Laboratory as the only university groups to have won the award on two occasions. The group also established a spin-out company, Arjuna Solutions, which was later sold to an American company, Bluestone Inc. for $13M. Bluestone was ultimately acquired by Hewlett Packard, leading to the establishment of an HP research laboratory in Newcastle. Following a change of middleware strategy by Hewlett Packard the original founders formed Arjuna Technologies, now based on the University campus, to further develop their technologies in the areas of web and cloud computing. In 2008 Arjuna's transaction software was sold to the middleware supplier JBoss, which was in turn acquired by RedHat. Both Arjuna and RedHat middleware research laboratories are located on campus.

2001
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The new millennium has seen the School adopt a much broader perspective in both research and teaching. In 2001 the School was invited to become the home of one of the Joint Research Council's Regional e-Science centres, directed by Professor Watson, leading to collaboration with a wide range of science and engineering departments and with other North-East Universities in developing and exploiting web and cloud computing. The rapidly growing field of Bio-informatics has become a particular strength, under Professor Wipat. The School also became the coordinator of one of EPSRC's interdisciplinary research collaborations, directed by Professor Jones. The Dependability IRC (DIRC) built on the long history of related research at Newcastle, addressing in particular the human element of dependability.

As part of the restructuring process the University established a number of research institutes, including the Informatics Research Institute, led by Professor Harrison, who joined the school from the University of York. A particular focus of the Institute (now the Digital Institute, directed by Professor Watson) has been on the experience of users of computing systems, culminating in the award of a major grant for the SIDE project (Social Inclusion for the Digital Economy) led by Professor Watson, working with colleagues at the University of Dundee. This work has been facilitated by the existence of Culture Lab, a research unit described by the University as a "focal point for creative arts practice at Newcastle University, supporting the work of researchers and students involved in high level, experimental and multi-disciplinary creative arts projects in a technologically rich and custom designed environment."

The NEReSC was established in July 2001, funded by the EPSRC and DTI through the UK Core e-Science programme, to provide expertise in e-Science and to instigate and run a set of industrially focused projects. The aims of the centre were, 1) to become a centre of excellence in e-Science 2) to initiate and manage a £1m programme of industrially focused projects with matching industrial contributions 3) to act as a first point of contact for e-science in the region, for companies and university research groups 4) to develop specialist expertise in database-intensive computing on the Grid 5) to develop communication, awareness and training activities in e-Science related fields 5) to participate in a national Grid of computing/data resources and facilities.

2004
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With the support of Northumbria Police the School established the Centre for CyberCrime and Computer Security (CCCS), directed by Professor van Moorsel, who had joined the School in 2004 from Hewlett Packard, to provide advice and education in this increasingly important area.

2006
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In 2006 Professor Lee succeeded Dr Lloyd as Head of School, presiding over a broadening of the spectrum of degree programmes and substantial expansion of student numbers. There are now variants of the BSc in Computing Science in Distributed Systems, in Software Engineering, and in Games and Virtual Environments. Masters degree programmes are now offered in Computer Security and Resilience, Bio-Informatics, E-Business and Information Systems, and Games Engineering, as well as in Internet Technologies and Enterprise Systems (a descendent of the original advanced MSc in Computing Software and System Design) and a more general MSc in Advanced Computer Science. The school receieved a HEFCE Centre of Excellence in Teaching and Learning award for a project directed by Dr (now Professor) Phillips, enabling development of innovative approaches to group project activity.

2011
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In 2011, Netskills Joined the School of Computing Science. The Netskills service was first established in 1995 as part of the JISC Electronic Libraries (e-Lib) programme. The original project was called: Network Skills for Users of the Electronic Library. The project grew out of training offered as part of the Mailbase mailing list service. It was located in the Computing Service at Newcastle University and this has remained the home of Netskills ever since.

2012
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Professor Aad van Moorsel takes over from Professor Lee as Head of School, inheriting a thriving organisation. Student numbers have increased from six undergraduates, nine MSc /Diploma students and eight PhD students in 1967 to present totals of around 500 undergraduate, 140 MSc and 85 PhD students. Perhaps most striking is that schools like ours have contributed to making computers part of everyday life: the single computer that served the entire university in 1957 has by 2012 become several hundred computers in the School of Computing Science alone.

John Lloyd July 2013.