University College, Dundee was founded in 1881 and opened to students in 1883. The Divisions which now comprise Science & Engineering have a rich history reflected in the School's timeline.


1881 University College, Dundee founded
1883 First Engineering students begin their studies under Professor of Engineering & Drawing, James Ewing in the Harris Building
1891 Thomas Caxton Fidler becomes the University's second Professor of Engineering and Drawing
1909 The Carnegie Physics Laboratory, designed by Rowand Anderson and Balfour Paul was opened
1947 Chair of Electrical Engineering established
1953 Department moves to the Ewing Building
1960 Construction begins on the Fulton Building
1964 Ivory Chair established to commemorate the distinguished Dundee-born mathematician Sir James Ivory (1765-1842)
1989 Concrete Technology Unit established - it has grown into a world class research centre of excellence
2013 Alumni Sir Robert Watson-Watt inducted into the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame

 Ewing Building (image from University Dundee Archives)

Throughout the history of the School many of our staff have made exceptional contributions to their fields:


Professor James Alfred Ewing (1855-1935) was born and educated in Dundee and studied engineering on a scholarship at the University of Edinburgh. In 1878 he became Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Physics at Tokyo University where he devised instruments for measuring earthquakes. He came to University College, Dundee as the first Professor of Engineering and Drawing. While at Dundee he became known for his social work as well as his research. He was horrified by living conditions in his home city and became involved in work to tackle them, notably taking a leading role in work to improve the city's sewage system. He left Dundee in 1890 to take a Chair at Cambridge University.


Professor Thomas Claxton Fidler (1841-1917) succeeded Alfred Ewing as Chair of Engineering and Drawing at University College, Dundee. By 1860 he was specialising in railways and railway bridges. His 'Practical Treatise on Bridge Construction' was published in 1887; `It was described by one expert as "by far the clearest, most thorough and generally efficient book on the theory of bridge construction which we at present possess in the English Language". He had a considerable influence on D'Arcy Thompson's great book  'On Growth and Form', thus indirectly influencing architects and engineers around the world.


Professor Angus Robertson Fulton (1871-1958) matriculated at University College Dundee in 1903, and was awarded a BSc in 1907. After graduation he joined the Engineering Department as an assistant to Professor Fidler. In 1920, he became the Professor of Engineering and Drawing, a post he held until he retired in 1946.


Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt (1892-1973) was born in Brechin and studied at University College, Dundee. After graduation he was offered an assistantship by Professor William Peddie, the Chair of Physics at the time. With Peddie's encouragement, Watson-Watt studied 'wireless telegraphy', the physics of radio frequency oscillators and wave propagation. Sir Watson-Watt's studies at Dundee eventually led to his revolutionary work on the development of RADAR, which played a vital role in World War II. Watson-Watt was knighted in 1942 and his legacy lives on today.


Professor Johannes Petrus Kuenen (1866-1922) was appointed to a professorship of Physics in 1895, position he held until 1906. He is renowned for his work on material state (gas, solid and liquid) quilibra which led to work such as the liquidification and solidification of Helium.


Professor William Peddie (1861-1946) saw the publication of the 1st edition of the ‘Manual of Physics’ in 1891, ‘Elementary dynamics of Solids and Fluid’s, and in 1907 became the Chair of Physics at University College, Dundee.



Professor Peter LeComber (1941-1992) was appointed at University of Dundee in 1968. In 1986 he gained a personal chair in Solid State Physics. He pioneered work into Amorphous Silicon fields and transistors, and found applications in addressable Liquid Crystal Displays. He published over 170 papers and was the co-inventor of 10 patents. Everyone who uses a solar-powered calculator or watches a flat-screen TV benefits from his work.


Professor Walter Eric Spear (1921-2008) was born in Germany and came to the UK just before the Second World War. After studying at the University of London he joined the University of Leicester, where he met a student named Peter LeComber, whose career became intertwined with Spear’s own. They both became famed for their research into amorphous silicon. This innovation directly led to LCD technology and the eventual development of solar panels and flat screen TVs.


D'Arcy Thompson laid the foundations of mathematical biology during his 64 years at the University of Dundee

‌‌D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860-1948) was the first Chair of Biology at University College Dundee. He was appointed in 1885 and it was not long before his work began to significantly influence research in the area of mathematical principles of nature. In 1917 this resulted in the publication of his seminal book, “On Growth and Form”. D’Arcy ‌Thompson’s work in the field of bio-mathematics still influences Mathematics at the School of Science & Engineering.



Thanks to the University of Dundee Archives for supplying content and images.