About the University

This information is adapted from that developed by our colleagues at CHSTM for the iCHSTM conference in 2013, and is used with permission.

Aerial view of University main buildings, Oxford Road

The University of Manchester traces its earliest origins to 1824 and the founding of the Manchester Mechanics’ Institute, set up to provide practical education in one of the fastest-growing towns of industrial Europe. Later, from the 1880s, the Institute caught the wave of a growing national movement for technical education, partly inspired by developments in Germany and the United States. As the School of Technology, it gained an impressive new building in the city centre. By the 1960s, this had grown to become the ‘Tech’ had grown to become the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), an independent higher education institution with its campus arranged around its Sackville Street main building (pictured below).

The University’s second major predecessor institution originated in 1851, thanks to a bequest from John Owens, a local textile manufacturer. At this time, formal higher learning in England was dominated by the ancient Universities of Oxford and Cambridge: Owens’ legacy was a college to provide a traditional, wide-ranging pattern of education to the people of Manchester. Though its curriculum remained broad, Owens College grew and prospered through its links with manufacturers and engineers, building a particularly strong international reputation in chemistry.

In 1873, having outgrown its initial site, Owens College moved to Oxford Road. The impressive neo-Gothic Main Building became the focus of an ever-growing campus (pictured above) as the College became a University, underwent postwar expansion, prospered, and in 2004 merged with the neighbouring UMIST to create the largest single-site university in Britain.

Aerial view of Sackville Street building (former UMIST main building)

The conference venue, the Renold Building, is at the heart of the Sackville Street campus, the former UMIST campus. The Sackville Street campus is well-positioned for the attractions of the city centre, but the Oxford Road campus – just a few minutes walk to the South – is also well worth a visit. The Oxford Road campus includes the Manchester Museum, with its extensive natural history collections, Egyptology displays and vivarium, and the University’s Whitworth Art Gallery (sadly currently closed for a major refurbishment and extension) and the restaurants of Rusholme’s “curry mile” are within walking distance.

On the Oxford Road site of the University campus, Ernest Rutherford devised the nuclear model of the atom; Hans Geiger built his first radiation counters; paleobotanist and birth control pioneer Marie Stopes began her academic career (as the first female member of the university’s faculty); Freddie Williams and Tom Kilburn engineered the first stored-program computer; and Alan Turing pondered the prospect of machine intelligence (you can visit Turing’s statue in Sackville Park, a few minutes walk from the conference venue). Most recently (2003) Andre Geim and Kostya Novosolev first isolated and characterised graphene here, an achievement for which they won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics.

For more information about the University’s rich history in science, technology and medicine, please see the University’s own history pages. For more detail, see Professor John Pickstone’s article, Owens College and the Technical School, and for information about the history of the various university buildings and the achievements that took place in them, consult James Sumner’s contributions to the British Society for the History of Science Travel Guide.

Marie Stopes
Above: Marie Stopes

Kilburn and Williams
Above: Tom Kilburn and Freddie Williams

Geiger and Rutherford
Above: Hans Geiger and Ernest Rutherford

Alan Turing
Above: Alan Turing


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