We were founded in 1957 and have had a long and prestigious history.
In June 2017 we celebrated our 60th anniversary. Find out how we started, and what the future holds. Find out about our history below, and via our history section.
Durham University Computing Laboratory at King's College, Newcastle (1957)
In January 1957, Dr Ewan S Page was chosen as Director of the Durham University Computing Laboratory at King's College, Newcastle.
The first focus for the Laboratory was to give computing support to researchers in both Durham and Newcastle. It soon became clear that education for users was essential.
This led to undergraduate and postgraduate teaching activities, and then postgraduate and undergraduate degree programmes.
The first Computer (1957)
The first computer at the Laboratory was a Ferranti Pegasus. It was installed in November 1957. It was christened Ferdinand (FERranti DIgital and Numerical Analyser Newcastle and Durham).
As there were few computers at this time, access to the Ferdinand was made available to local industry. This provided some of the initial funding.
Early Programming (1957-1959)
Between 1957-1958, Newcastle became the first British University to teach a course in computer programming to undergraduates.
Students in the last year of the Honours degree in Mathematics were offered a course in Numerical Analysis. The Postgraduate Diploma in Numerical Analysis and Automatic Computing was established in October 1959.
Two separate universities (1963)
In 1963, Newcastle and Durham became separate universities.
After splitting, the Laboratory became part of the new University of Newcastle upon Tyne, although it kept close links with Durham.
The Laboratory was housed in Kensington Terrace. It spread over the next few years into many of the adjoining houses.
Demand for computing facilities grew fast in the early 1960s.
In 1964 the Pegasus was replaced by an English Electric KDF9. The same year Dr Page was promoted to the post of Professor of Computing and Data Processing.
Start of high level languages
This period saw the first high-level languages coming into widespread use. These displaced the assemblers and autocodes of earlier years.
FORTRAN was the most popular language at the time, but Newcastle adopted ALGOL 60 as its main teaching language because of its more elegant conceptual architecture. It also benefited student programmers, as it had greater automatic error detection facilities.
As on the Ferranti Pegasus, programs were prepared on paper tape. The paper tape programs were then loaded into the computer by operators.
Program output would be returned some time later, possibly not until the next day. Output was provided on line-printer paper or sometimes on further paper tape.
This 24-hour turn-around meant students had to focus on producing error-free programs.
MSc Course in Computing Science
The Postgraduate Diploma course developed into an MSc course in Computing Science. It was aimed at graduates in other disciplines.
At the start numbers were small, but in later years this course grew at a significant rate. The increase in numbers was because students and employers appreciated the benefits of combining computing skills with other subjects.
Research during this period focused on automatic typesetting and on medical literature information retrieval.
Two typesetting projects were done in collaboration with the Department of Photography. They were both under the direction of the late C.J. Duncan.
The first was funded by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. It used the Ferranti Pegasus.
The second, funded by the Ministry of Technology, used ALGOL 60 on the KDF9.
Information retrieval research
The information retrieval work was directed by Elizabeth Barraclough. Elizabeth was the Ferranti Pegasus computer operator in 1957, but later became Director of the Computing Service.
The research was carried out with the US National Library of Medicine. It resulted in the development of the MEDLARS and then the MEDUSA systems.
New IBM 360/67, Undergraduate courses and moving to Claremont (1967)
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 (360/67), the Laboratory moved into a new building. The new building was Claremont Tower, and the School is there to this day. Download the Claremont Tower 1968 brochure (PDF: 2 MB).
The 360/67 was the first multiple-access computer outside North America. It displayed a new style of computing. Beside batch jobs running from decks of IBM punched cards, the 360/67 supported several remote access terminals. These terminals gave users an illusion of having the machine to themselves. This setup was an early precursor of today's PC environment.
1967 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. They then joined the Laboratory in the second year of the new BSc Honours Degree in Computing Science. They graduated in 1969 amongst the first graduates from any UK university.
Undergraduate programmes were followed in 1968 by the first of the Newcastle International Seminars on the Teaching of Computing Science. The series of seminars were sponsored at first by IBM, then Amdahl and then ICL. The ICL series ran for more than 30 years.
Michigan Terminal System (1969)
After some experimentation with proprietary time-sharing systems in 1969, the Laboratory adopted the Michigan Terminal System.
For the next 20 years the School helped to develop this community-supported system on a succession of mainframes.
The Michigan Terminal System opened up attractive technical opportunities for those providing the computing service. It also had a profound beneficial effect on the calibre of staff.
Together with the growth of academic programmes this began a period of significant expansion in the Laboratory. The Northumbrian Universities Multiple Access Computer (NUMAC) organisation was created. This gave services to both Newcastle and Durham universities.
Brian Randell joins Newcastle (1969)
Professor Brian Randell joined the Laboratory in 1969 from IBM's T J Watson Research Center. He had earlier worked for English Electric on the Whetstone ALGOL compiler used on KDF9.
Brian also initiated the Laboratory's Technical Report series for the prompt publication of research results.
Brian's professional and academic career achievements are now chronicled together in one archive (from 1950 to 2009). The fully catalogued materials are now available via a newly setup profile webpage on the University Library website.
First advanced MSc and new hardware (1972-74)
In 1972 the department launched the first 'advanced' master's degree programme in a UK University. The MSc was in Computing Software and System Design, funded through the Science Research Council.
In 1974 the IBM 360/67 was joined by a more powerful IBM 370/168. This was in partnership with Durham and Newcastle Polytechnic. Initially the 168 also provided services to Glasgow and Edinburgh universities.
The reliability project
Other hardware developments included the reliability project, which acquired several DEC PDP11 mini-computers. This established a still-continuing 40-year sequence of research projects. The area is now termed System Dependability, and contains 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.
The early experience of time-sharing systems created a high demand for remote access to computing facilities. This drove initiatives in networking, most notably the campus-wide NUNET network.
By 1988 the network supported almost 1,200 remote connections at Newcastle and Durham together. It had connections to the two (by then Amdahl) mainframes at the two universities, and to national and international services.
This work was first directed by Denis Russell. He later became Deputy Director of the Computing Service and influential in the development of a TCP/IP-based national academic network.
Professor Page, the Laboratory's first Director, became acting Vice-Chancellor of the University in 1979. He went on to become up the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading in 1981.
New Director (1981)
Professor Harry Whitfield joined the Computing Laboratory as its new Director. He was previously at the universities of Edinburgh and Groningen and was a major contributor to the development of the Edinburgh Multi-Access System.
The Centre for Software Reliability (CSR) was launched in 1984. Its Director was Professor Tom Anderson. CSR aims to transfer to industry the understanding developed through the reliability project and its successors.
CSR ran many seminars. These led to the establishment of the Software Reliability and Metrics Club. This later became the Safety Critical Systems Club (SCSC). The SCSC still runs major national and international technology transfer events.
A major part of this activity was a 17-year research project between the universities of Newcastle and York, and BAE Systems. The UNITE industry forum and its newsletter encouraged wider industrial involvement.
New equipment (1985)
In 1985 the Laboratory received a $1m equipment gift of advanced personal workstations from Xerox. The machines had a megabyte of memory, a million pixels and a processor speed of a million instructions per second.
Combined with one of the first Ethernet installations in the UK, it provided an early experience of the type of computing interface that was to become the hallmark of Apple computers in the following decades.
Following national recognition of the importance of computing science, many senior academic posts were created. Lecturers Tom Anderson and Santosh Shrivastava both became professors.
In 1986 Pete Lee returned to the Laboratory from the USA as a professor. He had been a researcher on the reliability project in the 1970s, and now brought knowledge of shared memory multiprocessor systems from the Encore Corporation.
In 1987 the Labratory installed an Encore Multimax 120. The Multimax 120 provided support for parallel processing research. It was then upgraded to support student teaching and an Encore Multimax 520 was installed to further the research.
MARI (Mid 1980s)
The Laboratory played an influential role in the establishment of the Microelectronic Applications Research Institute (MARI). Dr Brian Randell was particularly influential in its establishment.
It was a joint venture between Computer Analysts and Programmers (now CAP-Gemini), Newcastle University and Newcastle Polytechnic (now Northumbria University).
The company was successful for many years. It took on specialist contract computing research and participated, often as co-ordinator, in a large number of EU-funded projects.
MARI also established a training division based in Gateshead. It provided what would now be termed 'modern apprenticeships'. The apprenticeships were in an emerging high technology field at many centres across the UK.
Masters of Engineering Degree (1987)
The Joint honours in Computing and Electronic Engineering was revised in response to an initiative from British Telecom (now BT). It became a four-year Master of Engineering degree in Microelectronics and Software Engineering.
Academic split (1991)
In 1991, University Senate accepted a proposed separation of the Computing Laboratory. It split the academic and service functions.
The first of the two sections became the University Computing Service, directed by Elizabeth Barraclough.
The second was the Department of Computing Science. Professor Whitfield stepped down as Head of Department in 1992. He was succeeded by Professor Anderson.
Information Systems degree
By the early 1990s there was an emerging need for graduates with a clear understanding of current technologies. They needed 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 and sometimes attracted more students than the Computing Science degree. It has since been discontinued.
The 25th annual Newcastle International Seminar on the Teaching of Computing Science took place in 1992. It was celebrated with presentations from eight of its most distinguished former speakers. Six of the speakers were holders of the ACM Turing Award.
40th anniversary (1997)
The Laboratory celebrated its 40th anniversary in 1997. It held a half-day seminar at which Professor Page was the keynote speaker (further details of the seminar can be found here).
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.
Distributed Systems receives an award (2000)
In 2000, the Distributed Systems Research group led by Professor Shrivastava was awarded the BCS Technical Achievement Award. It was given the award for its development of the Arjuna middleware system.
This meant the department 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. Arjuna Solutions was later sold to an American company, Bluestone Inc. for $13m. Bluestone was then acquired by Hewlett Packard (HP). This lead to the establishment of an HP research laboratory in Newcastle.
HP made changes to the strategy for middleware. This lead to the original founders forming Arjuna Technologies. They are 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.
Millennium changes (2000-2001)
The new millennium saw the School adopt a broader perspective in both research and teaching.
In 2001 the School became home to one of the Joint Research Council's Regional e-science centres. It was directed by Professor Watson and led to collaboration with a range of science and engineering departments and with other North-East universities, particularly in developing and exploiting web and cloud computing.
The rapidly growing field of bio-informatics became a particular strength under Professor Wipat.
The School also became the co-ordinator of one of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council's (EPSRC) interdisciplinary research collaborations. This is directed by Professor Jones. The Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration in Dependability (DIRC) built on the long history of related research at Newcastle. It addressed in particular the human element of dependability.
The North East Regional e-science Centre (NEReSC) was established in July 2001. It was funded by the EPSRC and Department of Trade and Industry through the UK Core e-Science programme. It received funding to give expertise in e-Science and to instigate and run a set of industrially focused projects.
The aims of the centre were to:
- become a centre of excellence in e-Science
- start and manage a £1m programme of industrially focused projects with matching industrial contributions
- act as a first point of contact for e-science in the region, for companies and university research groups
- develop specialist expertise in database-intensive computing on the Grid
- develop communication, awareness and training activities in e-Science related fields
- take part in a national grid of computing/data resources and facilities.
Informatics Research Institute (Digital Institute)
As part of the restructuring process the University established many research institutes.
One of the institutes was the Informatics Research Institute, led by Professor Harrison. The Informatics Research Institute has since been renamed Digital Institute and is directed by Professor Watson.
The main focus of the institute has been on the experience of users of computing systems. This culminated in the award of a major grant for the Social Inclusion for the Digital Economy project. This was led by Professor Watson, working with colleagues at the University of Dundee.
This work has been facilitated by the existence of Open Lab.
Centre for CyberCrime and Computer Security (2004)
With the support of Northumbria Police the School established the Centre for CyberCrime and Computer Security. It was directed by Professor van Moorsel, who had joined the School in 2004 from Hewlett Packard.
Course options diversify, new Head of School is appointed (2006)
In 2006 Professor Lee succeeded Dr Lloyd as Head of School. Professor Lee presided over a broadening of the spectrum of degree programmes and a large expansion of student numbers.
There are now variants of the BSc in Computing Science. Specialisms include Distributed Systems, Software Engineering, and Games and Virtual Environments.
Masters degree programmes are now offered in Computer Security and Resilience, Bio-Informatics, E-Business and Information Systems, Games Engineering, Cloud Computing and a more general MSc in Advanced Computer Science.
The School received a HEFCE Centre of Excellence in Teaching and Learning award for a project directed by Dr (now Professor) Phillips. It enabled development of innovative approaches to group project activity.
2010 onwards2010 onwards
In 2011, Netskills Joined the School of Computing Science. The Netskills service was first established in 1995 as part of the JISC Electronic Libraries 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 provided services to a range of clients including all UK universities and most FE colleges. It also worked with public libraries, schools, the commercial sector, government and non-government organisations.
Professor Van Moorsel becomes Head, student numbers rose (2012)
Professor Aad van Moorsel took over from Professor Lee as Head of School, inheriting a thriving organisation.
Student numbers had increased rapidly over 50 years. In 1967 there were six undergraduates, nine MSc /Diploma students and eight PhD students.
The 2012 student numbers were around 500 undergraduate, 140 MSc and 85 PhD students.
The single computer that served the entire university in 1957 had by 2012 become several hundred computers in the School of Computing Science alone.
2014 REF ranking (2014)
In December 2014, the School of Computing Science received a fantastic result in the Research Excellence Framework (REF). It jumped from 22nd to 9th place in the UK by GPA, placing the School in the top quartile for Computing Science. The exercise demonstrated all impact case studies to be world-leading.
The school was ranked first in the country for the economic, social and cultural impact of its research. All its impact case studies ranked as Outstanding.