Moments of wonder as the University of Surrey celebrates 50 years in Guildford

The dome by the University of Surrey lake (Photo: Kerry Jordan)

The dome by the University of Surrey lake (Photo: Kerry Jordan) - Credit: Archant

As the University of Surrey celebrates 50 years in our county town, Rebecca Younger delves into the archives to take a look back through some of its many moments of wonder

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine May 2017


Dome Sculpture

The University of Surrey has many sculptures on campus with one of the most recognisable being the dome by the lake. It was donated through the Space Structures Research Centre to the university, and installed in September 1984. In the August, prior to its installation in its final location, the triodetic sculpture was ‘relocated’ by students. The university newsletter of the time diplomatically stating, “The students were quick to appreciate the beauty of this sculpture and quickly removed it from its temporary position near the security office to a more satisfying environment of a lake, although all of us agree now that the final location is the most satisfactory.”

Thomas Farrer Collection

One of the university’s special collections is a Victorian gentleman’s library comprising over 2,000 volumes, which belonged to Thomas Henry Farrer (1819¬1899). Farrer, formerly of Abinger Hall in Surrey, was the 1st Baron Farrer and permanent secretary to the Board of Trade. As such he was deemed one of the pillars of the mid-Victorian civil service. The scope of his collection is vast, including a set of works by Charles Darwin (Darwin being a personal friend of Farrer), a number of local histories of Surrey, historically important first editions, as well as texts dating back to the 1600s.

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Professor Sir Martin Sweeting

Growing out of the Electronic and Amateur Radio Society, the University of Surrey’s work with microsatellites began in 1979 when Martin Sweeting led a team to build UoSAT-1. Launched in 1981 by NASA, this was the first time a single university had taken a satellite from idea though to launch. In 1985, Surrey Satellite Technology was formed with the aim of creating microsatellites, which would provide affordable access to space. The technology was used during the Queen’s visit in 1992, when she spoke to the President of Zambia directly via satellite.

A ferret in the pipes

Surrey student radio was set up in the 1970s, when the government began issuing restricted broadcasting licences. According to one of the university’s alumni, a ferret belonging to one of the lab technicians was seconded to the project to assist with the technical set up of the operation. Encouraged into the pipe duct with the necessary wire attached to his collar, he scampered along happily encouraged by the piece of raw meat awaiting him at the other end.

Rudolf Laban Archive

The archive which receives the most research interest, is that of the 20th century’s foremost movement theorist, Rudolf Laban. Born in Bratislava in 1879, Laban chose to study art rather than follow a military career like his father. He always had an interest in human movement and in the 1910s his experimental work in Switzerland led to the development of new European modern dance forms. His systems for observing and recording human movement have been used in dance, acting, movement therapy and work environments. He was instrumental in developing UK dance education systems and his Art of Movement Studio, which was originally founded in Manchester, was based in Addlestone from 1953 to 1976.

EH Shepard Archive

The university holds the personal archive of illustrator EH Shepard, famous for drawing Winnie-the-Pooh and The Wind in the Willows, but whose career extended well beyond these characters to other children’s books, his own memoirs and as a contributor to Punch as a political cartoonist. A vast range of letters, diaries, sketches and manuscripts illuminate both his professional career as well as his personal life, including his time spent as an officer in the Royal Artillery during the First World War and as a member of the Surrey Home Guard during the Second World War. Shepard lived locally in Lodsworth, West Sussex, but earlier in Shamley Green and in Guildford, and it was his connection to the local area that led him to donate his personal collection to the university in 1974.

Morag Morris – a literary champion

Morag joined the university in the 1960s and, unusually for the time, focussed solely on 20th century poets. In the mid-1970s, she started what became the Annual Poetry Lecture (since 1998 the Morag Morris Poetry Lecture). At her invitation, poets such as Stephen Spender, Jon Stallworthy and Andrew Motion visited the university and spoke at these public lectures.

• With special thanks to the University of Surrey’s Archives & Special Collections team


10 more moments of wonder

Quantum Well Laser

In 1986 Professor Alf Adams, invented the strained quantum-well laser at the university. Adams essentially made the digital age possible - these lasers power technology including the internet, CDs, DVDs, computer mice and supermarket checkouts, to name but a few. The invention is considered to be one of the top 10 greatest UK scientific breakthroughs of all time.

Vitamin D Research

Last year, research by the university led to the UK’s first ever Government recommendations on vitamin D, which recommend an intake of 10 micrograms daily. The research showed that we don’t make enough vitamin D in summer to last through the winter because our 21st century lifestyles don’t allow us to get the same amount of sunlight exposure as we used to.

Ion Beam Centre

Reaching back to the university’s predecessor in Battersea, over six decades of ground-breaking work has ensured its position as the national academic centre for ion beam technology. In 2002 the centre received the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for research and development of ion beams and optoelectronic devices, having pioneered the use of ion beams to analyse materials as material received from the Hubble Space Telescope, paint from a Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece, and timber from the Cutty Sark.

Jumbo Jet Hangers

In 1967, the university researched and designed the first Jumbo Jet hangars in the world. Built at Heathrow Airport, they were analysed using a computer – one of the earliest examples of a computer used for a major structural design. The design of the hangars received the special prize of the Institution of Structural Engineers in 1972.


The £70million 5G Innovation Centre opened at the university in 2015 as the largest UK academic research centre dedicated to the development of the next generation of mobile and wireless communications.

Mini Cooper

Distinguished alumnus, Sir Alec Issigonis, from the university’s predecessor institution in Battersea is the man behind the Mini. In 1957, in response to the Suez Oil Crisis, Issigonis’ employer – the British Motor Corporation – set him a challenge: to design a small, fuel-efficient car. His radical design used a transverse engine to power the front wheels, and comfortably sat four passengers in a remarkably small 10ft-long chassis.

Sleep research

Research by emeritus professor, Josephine Arendt, found that jet-lag can be alleviated by taking melatonin. She was also one of the first to show that melatonin can improve the sleep patterns of blind individuals whose biological clock is not synchronised to light/dark patterns, and that melatonin can correct abnormal sleep timing in those who suffer from delayed sleep phase syndrome. These discoveries led to widespread use of melatonin. In 2001 professor Debra Skene and her team demonstrated, for the first time, that blue light at a certain wavelength (469 – 480 nanometres) is more effective in suppressing melatonin, the hormone that promotes drowsiness and sleep.

Meningitis Diagnostic Test

In 1996, the university’s Dr Johnjoe McFadden and his team developed a rapid blood-based diagnostic test for meningococcal meningitis, leading to World Health Organisation-endorsed diagnostic tests, which have helped halve the adult mortality rate associated with the disease via quicker and more accurate diagnosis, treatment and infection control.


The university and its designated WHO Collaborating Centre was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for extensive, global work to improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation in 2011. The university has been working towards the provision of safe water for over 30 years; in 1985, the first DelAgua portable water testing kit was invented by the university’s professor of environmental health engineering, Barry Lloyd, in conjunction with Oxfam. The kit is used in 130 countries by organisations such as UNICEF, Water Aid, the Red Cross and Save The Children.

Machine intelligence

The university’s Centre for Vision, Speech and Signal Processing (CVSSP) was founded by Professor Josef Kittler in 1986 and is recognised internationally for pioneering research into the creation of machines that can see, hear and understand the world around them. The centre has developed some of the most exciting and ground-breaking technologies, such as facial recognition for security, medical image understanding for cancer detection and 3D reconstruction from video to enable visual-effects production in films.


DON’T MISS! In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the University of Surrey is hosting a Festival of Wonder at the Guildford campus on Saturday May 13. Find out more at*

*This event has since sold out


What have Led Zeppelin, Oscar winners, Kylie and female conductors got to do with the University of Surrey?

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