The earliest activities can be traced back to Fleeming Jenkin (1833-85), an outstanding electrical and telegraphic cable engineer, also known for his work in establishing units of electrical measurement and for his invention of the aerial tramway. His first major engineering project was in 1855, fitting out the SS Elba at Birkenhead to retrieve a subsea electrical telegraphic cable lost in the Mediterranean. In 1861, Jenkin collaborated on the laying the Malta-Alexandria undersea cable.
In 1868 he was appointed as the first Regius Professor of Engineering in the University of Edinburgh before supervising with William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) the laying of the French transatlantic cable by the SS Great Eastern. Jenkin was awarded thirty-five British patents, many on cable-laying and these, together with consulting work, made him financially independent.
He served as reporter for the Committee of Electrical Standards of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, where he initiated studies into the standardisation of the ohm as the absolute unit of electrical resistance. Jenkin’s 1873 treatise on “Electricity and Magnetism”, complemented that of James Clerk Maxwell. Jenkin was elected FRS in 1865; the Royal Society of Edinburgh followed suit in 1869, and he was its vice-president in 1879.
Electrical Engineering (EE) was first taught as a subject or discipline within the Department of Engineering at The University of Edinburgh from 1926  with many students receiving ordinary degree awards in Engineering.
In 1946 Ronald Arnold was attracted to the Regius Chair of Engineering from Swansea and he set about the task of updating Engineering teaching and research. Following the appointment of Edward Appleton as Principal in 1949 Appleton’s interests contributed to the further development of EE.
Up to this time EE students attended courses taught at Heriot-Watt College under the guidance of Professor Maurice Say (Electrical Machines and Servomechanisms) and Eric Taylor (Electrical Machines and Power Systems), both of whom had international reputations in these fields.
Honours graduations up to 1940 in EE never exceeded 5 students p.a. . 1941 saw the introduction of a designated ordinary degree in Electrical Engineering, with up to 11 such graduations p.a., while the honours EE class increased up to 9 students, in the period up to 1965 . Notable EE graduates in 1942 were Duncan McCallum who became general manager of Ferranti, Edinburgh and Sir Duncan McDonald, chief Executive of Northern Engineering Industries, Newcastle. In addition D T N Williamson FRS, who graduated c1945, designed the Williamson amplifier, an early high fidelity valve design, before becoming Director of Engineering with Rank Xerox.
Electrical Engineering was organised as a separate discipline within Engineering with the appointment in 1948 of Ewart Farvis as a Lecturer in Applied Electricity, arriving from his wartime civil service activities at the Royal Radar Establishment (RRE), Malvern .
In 1950 Farvis and Arnold established the one-year postgraduate Diploma Course in Electronics & Radio and it was supported by scholarships from Ferranti in Edinburgh, with a similar course introduced in Applied Dynamics. Nowadays these would be M.Sc. Courses, but the M.Sc. was a research degree at that time. Farvis appointment established research projects on gas discharges and on ionospheric work, related to the interests of Appleton.
As part of this Diploma Course Farvis attracted senior people from industry and research departments to contribute a series of lectures; as a result of his wartime radar and electronic countermeasure activities. Amongst these many courses was one from Principal Appleton himself on ionospheric theory and radio propagation and one from R A Smith (Head of Physics at RRE) on semiconductor theory. In 1955 Bernard Meltzer was appointed lecturer (later reader) where he undertook research on both solid-state and high-vacuum electronics before moving into artificial intelligence. Leonard Maunder (PhD 1950) was appointed as a lecturer from 1956-1961 before moving to a chair at Newcastle.
From 1952 basic Electrical Technology was taught in second year at Kings Buildings with Farvis teaching the electromagnetics courses up to Honours level, but the final year electrical power courses and servomechanisms were all still taught at Heriot-Watt College in Chambers Street. Colin Davidson taught the first servomechanisms course at Kings Buildings when he joined the EE staff later in the fifties as a Lecturer (subsequently gaining a 1960 PhD on microwave probe investigation of pulsed glow discharge) before he moved to Nuclear Enterprises and then Heriot-Watt, where he was latterly HoD there.
Farvis was appointed to the Chair of Electrical Engineering and the launch of the separate Department of Electrical Engineering in 1961 . Academic staff by 1966 thus included: Harold Dickinson; Alan Dinnis; Herbert Melvin; (who all served their entire careers at Edinburgh); Oliver Jacobs; Edward Jenkins; Louis Muggleton; James Murray; and Robin Pringle (who later joined MESL).
The Department was coordinated, with the separate Departments of Chemical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, from 1967 within the School of Engineering Science, which comprised a federation of autonomous departments . In 1979 The Department of Civil Engineering joined a renamed School of Engineering with teaching of BSc (Eng) degrees then conducted under the Engineering ordinance and, in 1989, this converted into a School of Engineering and Informatics by adding the Department of Computer Science .
In 1971/2 EE introduced joint undergraduate degrees in: “Electronics and Physics” through Alan Owen, who was later appointed to a Personal Chair in Physical Electronics; “Computer Science and Electronics”; and “Electrical and Mechanical Engineering”. None of these joint degrees had a significant take-up by students, the typical numbers being below 10 graduations p.a., but they did not require any additional taught lecture courses.
Many of Farvis’ post-war innovations in the undergraduate curriculum were tried out at Edinburgh before catching on elsewhere, including: open book examinations; individual experimental project work; and in-depth dissertation writing. Farvis was innovative in moving the final honours’ examination diet from June to January, to improve the student focus on individual project work.
Notable EE graduates from this era are: Michael Ramsay who was the 8th employee in US company Convergent Technologies and, in 1998/9, a co-inventor of the TIVO digital recorder; Don MacLennan later became the Technical Marketing Manager of General Electric Semiconductors; Jean Armstrong (nee Brown) joined Hewlett Packard before moving to become an academic in Australia with a high profile for advancing “Women in Engineering”. Nicholas Massey secured a Design Council Molins Prize  award for his undergraduate project.
In the early 1980’s The Science Research Council (SRC), the forerunner to the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), decided to launch MSc Conversion Courses in Information Technology and Microelectronics. One of the early microelectronics students here was David Renshaw, an Edinburgh school teacher who later became a Lecturer and then partner with Peter Denyer in VLSI Vision Systems.
Jeff Collins, the second Head of Department (HoD), decided to streamline the Department’s organisation so that every member of the academic staff took on a specific administrative responsibility: finance; course organisation; student recruitment; computing; etc. Caroline Saunders was appointed as the Departmental Secretary serving the successive HoD’s: John Mavor (1984-1989); Alan Owen (1989-1994); Jim Jordan (1994-1999); and Peter Grant (1999-2002).
Collins revamped a number of the undergraduate courses to match us better to the microelectronics marketplace. Peter Dryburgh constructed a course on silicon semiconductor technology in the final year, building on Alan Owen’s third year course on semiconductor theory. In 1979 when the microprocessor appeared, this was immediately added to the curriculum in a new third year laboratory organised by Bob Kelly. In 1981 with advent of the logic gate array Mervyn Jack enabled students to design and build complex silicon circuits using the processing facilities of the Edinburgh Microfabrication Facility (EMF) . Later, in 1993, the Department was gifted 50 software licences for the Cadence advanced VLSI Design Tool Set to enable our third year students to conduct more realistic and advanced circuit designs in the “Cadence Laboratory for Scotland”.
The increase in undergraduate numbers over this period had two effects firstly additional academic staff could be recruited. Over the period 1977 to 1984 the academic staff numbers rose from some 10 to 25 and the significant increase in research grant awards meant we had at this time some 30 research students to assist in operating the undergraduate laboratories.
The EE Department maintained over several years what was then a unique undergraduate teaching structure for the final year of the 4-year BEng programmes in “Microelectronics”, “Electronics and Electrical Engineering” with final written papers assessed, every January, and the programme concluding with individual project and the group dissertation exercises. The first 5-year MEng graduation  started in 1992 for a programme which incorporated a 9 month long project, mostly conducted in (local) industry.
The rational for the Edinburgh EE degree programmes was that “the first year matched former school pupils to the University environment; the second and third years were to inculcate in them the principles and modern practices of Electrical Engineering, and the final year matched students to the real world”. 1998 saw the opening of the Alrick building to provide additional space for the progressively enlarged Department.
The Department continued to grow until 2002 when all the individual Engineering Departments were merged with the formation of the integrated School of Engineering under the leadership of Peter Grant, up to 2008, followed by Alan Murray. Following this a number of new 1-year taught MSc courses were introduced on: “Signal Processing and Communications”; “Sustainable Energy Systems”; “Electrical Power Engineering”; “Advanced Power Engineering”; “Electronics”; and “Sensor and Imaging Systems”.
Following the 1924 confirmation of the existence of the ionosphere by Appleton, he undertook a programme of research on the characteristics of the ionosphere and, along with many other researchers, ionosonde stations were set up to probe and record ionospheric conditions around the world. These were used to refine the theory of the ionosphere and predict usable frequencies for long distance communication, radio blackouts due to magnetic storms etc. This was further related to the possibility of detecting reflections from aircraft and, so eventually, to the invention of radar by Robert Watson-Watt.
Appleton arranged to appoint Louis Muggleton to a lectureship where he collaborated on investigating the E-layer. Muggleton became an advisor to Trans World Radio on frequency selection for worldwide broadcasting and continued his work on ionospheric theory after he left and moved to Africa.
Derek Pringle completed a glow discharge PhD in 1954, spent time with Ferranti, before joining his brother at Nuclear Enterprises. Achyut Thatte also completed a glow discharge PhD in 1954 before appointment as a research associate and then moving to the Indian Atomic Energy Authority.
A.J.Lyon, Appleton’s research assistant, published many papers on the ionosphere that contributed to his 1956 PhD before he ultimately became a Professor in Hong Kong.
Antennae research was influenced by Appleton and vertical aerials were set up at Kings Buildings and their characteristics measured using radio stars as signal sources. Much of this was done by Tom MacLean (PhD 1959) who published papers on aerials for many years following his move to the University of Birmingham. During the International Geophysical Year (1958) an ionospheric station was set up in Shetland under the guidance of Farvis. Much of the gas discharge research was funded by government agencies arising from wartime contacts, such as the Services Electronics Research Establishment (SERL) at Baldock and the Co-ordination of Valve Development Department (CVD). A radio station was built at Boghall farm on the Pentland hills  just outside Edinburgh to conduct these studies.
Farvis had the foresight to move from gas discharges and initiate research into the new solid state devices and, into what later became, semiconductor materials. Robin Dunbar (PhD 1963) left to join Heriot-Watt as lecturer and there he formed a major research group on underwater radio propagation and submersibles.
The second chair in the department was formed when Jeff Collins returned from his position as Director of Physical Sciences at Rockwell International in California in 1970 to take up a SRC sponsored research chair. Collins initiated university research in analogue signal processing with surface acoustic wave (SAW) and magnetostatic wave devices  and complementary industrial activity in SAW radar pulse compression filters, locally at MESL  in Newbridge. In 1989 MESL secured a Queen's Award for Technological Achievement  in Radar Signal Processing using SAW Pulse Compression before being later acquired by Racal and then ComDev.
Following study leave at the University of Texas at Arlington in 1976-77 Collins returned to the Department, on Farvis retiral, taking over as Head of Department (HoD). The SRC had identified the need for dedicated University Centres to provide processing of silicon semiconductor devices for all the UK’s Universities, establishing two centres at Edinburgh and Southampton. Edinburgh received £316,000 of initial funding in 1978 with Jeff Collins, John Mavor and John Robertson as Principal Investigators. This enhanced the earlier facility, started by Farvis, in 1964! The Edinburgh Microfabrication Facility (EMF) received the largest ever University of Edinburgh research award of £2.5 million in 1982 with continual subsequent equipment upgrades  over the years, securing a £1 million donation of an Eaton Corporation NV10-160 Ion Implanter in 1992.
John Mavor was promoted in 1980 to the Lothian Chair of Microelectronics and John Robertson took up the Director of the EMF position. In 1993 when John Robertson left to form the Motorola University in Phoenix, Anthony Walton took over as EMF Director. By 2000 the EMF had outgrown its limited space so, with funding from Scottish Enterprise, a new facility, the Scottish Microelectronics Centre (SMC)  was opened in 2002 with 300m2 of class 10 and 250m2 of class 1,000-10,000 cleanrooms and 1000m2 of office and laboratory space.
John Mavor subsequently decided that his research future lay more in design of Very Large Scale Integrated Circuits (VLSI) and he, Meryvn Jack and Peter Denyer secured a large SERC four-year Rolling Grant. Mavor concentrated on developing charge coupled devices (CCDs) for signal processing and CCDs were also used to realise early imager chips for digital cameras. Mavor organised for several years, with staff from Texas Instruments and the Naval Ocean Systems Centre San Diego, the International CCD conference series. Research in microelectronic systems continued under Alan Murray, who specialised in the design of artificial neural networks . Alan Owen continued to receive substantial funding from SERC and industrial sources for his research on amorphous silicon devices. PhD’s from this period are Colin Carruthers, who leads Xilinx in the UK and Kenneth Sutherland, President of Toshiba Medical Visualization Systems Europe.
Meanwhile Peter Grant decided to move gradually from analogue signal processing device fabrication to digital signal processing (DSP) software development in the Signal Processing Research Group . One major research contribution by Colin Cowan and Sheng Chen was on the application of the radial basis function network to achieve a high performance adaptive Bayesian filtering solutions. These structures  provided performance improvements over linear adaptive filters, as recognized by the many paper citations and the 1992 IEE Marconi paper premium. Notable PhD graduands from this era are Barry Darby and Malcolm Davey who completed their careers in senior positions with Racal Electronics and Vodafone respectively. A later graduand, Gordon Povey, founded Trisent. Other research on spread spectrum communication systems and Bernard Mulgrew’s activities in radar signal processing was as the forerunner to today’s highly successful Research Institute for Digital Communications . Mulgrew’s 1995 PhD student, Iain Scott, was a 2018 Royal Academy of Engineering silver medallist for his technical contributions at Leonardo, Edinburgh.
Mainstream EE research in Electrical Power Systems was coordinated by Bert Whittington, This group concentrated on: Energy trading ; the design of power systems for developing countries, such as micro hydro schemes for Papua New Guinea; as well as enhancing power electronics, for example to improve the design of switched-mode power supplies , as they became increasingly used in domestic electronics products.
John Mavor became HoD in 1984 before he resigned to become Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering for five years, and then he was appointed as Principal at Napier University in 1994. After 2002, when all the individual Engineering Departments were merged with the formation of the integrated School of Engineering, the EE research continued in 3 research institutes: Micro and Nano Systems; Digital Communications ; and Energy Systems.
Tughrul Arslan pioneered low power mobile and wireless system design in three distinct themes: embedded reconfigurable processors into mobile platforms; smart antenna systems for mobile and wearable devices; and mobile indoor and hyper-local positioning through efficient and low power integration of wireless, sensor, and cloud technologies.
In 2005 the Scottish Funding Council research pooling exercise supported a £12 million award to set up the "Edinburgh Research Partnership in Engineering and Mathematics" . This enabled the formation of 6 joint research institutes between Schools of Engineering and Mathematics at the University of Edinburgh with equivalent units at Heriot-Watt University. This enabled for example the formation of the “Signal and Image Processing Joint Research Institute” between the Institute for Digital Communications at the University of Edinburgh and the Vision, Image and Signal Processing laboratory at the Heriot-Watt. The 2005 Edinburgh professorial appointments was Michael Davies, who successfully secured and served as coordinator of Phase 2 and 3 of the University Defence Research Collaboration . The £4 million Phase 3 award, working closely with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), on “Signal Processing in the Information Age”, developing new underpinning Signal Processing and Machine Learning tools for the defence community.
Commercialisation and Technology Transfer
The HoD also served as the Chairman of the Wolfson Microelectronics Institute (WMI), the industrial arm of the Department, with David Milne as Managing Director. WMI had the three-fold mission of “improving the training of engineers in microelectronics through exposure to industrial developments and practice, to introduce new microelectronics technology into industry, and to exploit commercially the research ideas conceived in the University”. WMI first majored in CCD based filters for sonar applications (with John Mavor), helium speech unscrambling for deep sea divers (with Meryvn Jack), and image processing. Later the focus was on microprocessor applications and application-specific integrated circuits. By 1984 the annual turnover had reached £700,000.
At the wish of the WMI staff it was floated in January 1985 as the private company, Wolfson Microelectronics. The company’s growth accelerated markedly with the move into audio signal processing products with the turnover, in 1998, being £14 million. David Milne continued as the Managing Director until 2007, some years before its 2014 acquisition by Cirrus Logic for $500 million .
David Milne, receiving his Royal Medal at Royal Society of Edinburgh from HRH Prince Philip
Over the same period the Department’s VLSI research was led to Peter Denyer who was appointed to the Advent chair of Integrated Electronics. His initial research on Silicon Compiler led on to the formation in 1990 of the image sensors company, VLSI Vision Systems (VVL) . They designed image sensors in Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) silicon chips for mobile phones in a simpler, more cost effective stechnology, than the CCD. This continued until in 1998 when VVL was sold to ST Microelectronics for £23 million. However, this activity still continues today in Edinburgh as the Imaging Division of ST Microelectronics. Denyer’s PhD student, Oliver Vellacot left to form his video security company Indigo Vision.
Ian Underwood carried out research and development on liquid crystal microdisplays between 1983 and 1999. He contributed to the formation of Micropix Technologies (now Forth Dimension Displays) before becoming, in 1998, a co-founder of MicroEmissive Displays  and co-inventor of its microdisplay technology. He received a 2004 Guinness world record for the smallest colour TV screen.
With active EE commercialisation HoD’s served on the Board for the University’s Centre for Industrial Consultancy and Liaison whose mission was to negotiate contracts and consultancies placed by industry. The University refined this arrangement in 1983 to create the company, UNIVED Technologies including industrial training activities. This later became Edinburgh Research and Innovation (ERI) and, with support from Edinburgh District Council, dedicated space was created in the new Technology Transfer Centre to facilitate improved company formation and spin-out.
The EE Department also formed EUMOS to support in-company training courses in integrated circuit design, microfabrication and signal processing. These courses were delivered by academics along with WMI staff.
In 1983 it was proposed that The University of Edinburgh should anchor for the ALVEY programme a Speech Recognition Demonstrator embodying all our Information Technology disciplines securing £4 million of funding. John Laver (from linguistics) and Mervyn Jack became the Principal Investigators for this demonstrator project. Mervyn continued his work on Dialogue Engineering and Usability Engineering, for major customers such as British Telecom and Lloyds bank within his Centre for Communications Interface Research which moved to Kings Buildings in 2003.
In 1998 Scottish Enterprise funded a collaboration between: Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt, Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities to set up the Institute for System Level Integration (ISLI) in Livingston  with an associated MSc and industrial collaboration. This facilitated the move to Scotland of Cadence Design Systems, before the Institute closed in 2012. Tughrul Arslan who has spun-out several companies including: RicaTek; Tencent; Sofant; and Sensewhere, was the departmental pioneer in this subject area.
Robert Henderson is active in studying the theory, simulation, and high performance CMOS integration of Single-Photon Avalanche Diodes (SPADs): as fully networked, digital components for photon-starved biomedical imaging systems; photonic integrated circuits; and million frame per second time-correlated single photon camera. The latter is performed in association with the Edinburgh Design Centre of ST Microelectronics.
Robin Wallace, Markus Mueller etc., from the Institute for Energy Systems, collaborated on the design and 2014 installation of the FloWave Ocean Energy Research Facility - a 25-metre diameter tank that can recreate complex waves and fast currents. They are funded by Wave Energy Scotland to demonstrate their novel direct drive generator technology for wave energy applications.
Awards and Recognition
Over the years the EE Department has developed a very impressive track record in research and commercialisation (through VVL and Wolfson Microelectronics) and this was recognised in the UK Research Assessment Exercises (RAE) where the Department was awarded top ranking (5*) in the 1996  and 2001  research competitions.
In 1994 Ian Underwood was co-recipient of a Photonics Spectra Circle of Excellence Award with Boulder Nonlinear Systems.
In 1997 VVL received a Queen's Award for Industry. In 1998 Peter Denyer was awarded the Royal Academy of Engineering's Silver Medal . He also personally received a Queen's Award for Technology  for his work on CMOS systems, as well as an IEEE Millennium Medal.
In 2004 Peter Grant received the IEE Faraday Medal  and Ian Underwood the European Semiconductor Start-up Award, the latter followed in 2005 with the IEE Innovation in Engineering Award for Emerging Technology .
In 2006, David Milne was declared Entrepreneur of the Year by the CBI and Wolfson Microelectronics was named as Company of the Year.
In 2008 Denyer, Renshaw, Wang and Lu were recognised with the Rank Prize in Optoelectronics . When accepting the prize, Denyer said: "Our work was not always so well regarded, certainly in its earliest days when the doubters were many and the believers were... well, just ourselves."
In 2012 David Milne was further recognised with the award of a Royal Society of Edinburgh Royal Medal.
Harald Haas, was the initiator, co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of the light emitting diode (LED) data transmission company pureLiFi . In 2016 Haas was recognised with the ‘Outstanding Achievement Award’ from the International Solid State Lighting Alliance and PureLiFi’s LiFi-X, the world’s first USB powered LiFi dongle, secured the Institute of Physics business award . In 2017 pureLiFi won the ‘cool tech award’ at Mobile World Congress.
- R M Birse, “Engineering at Edinburgh University 1673-1983”, University of Edinburgh 1983, ISBN 0-9508920-0-9
- https://boghall-radio-masts.blogspot.co.uk/2017/ and http://www.btpensionersreconnect.co.uk/Boghall%20Radio%20Masts.pdf
- M A Jack, P M Grant and J H Collins "Theory, Design and Applications of Surface Acoustic Wave Fourier Transform Processors", Proceedings IEEE, Vol. 68, No. 4, pp. 450-468, April 1980. DOI: 10.1109/PROC.1980.11674
- A F Murray and D J Myers, “Special Issue on Microelectronics for Neural Networks”, International Journal of Neural Systems, Vol. 4, No. 4, 139 pages, 1994
- S Chen, C F N Cowan and P M Grant, "Orthogonal least squares learning algorithm for radial basis function networks", IEEE Transactions on Neural Networks, Vol.2, No.2, pp.302-309, March 1991 DOI: 10.1109/72.80341 with 4000+ Web of Science citations!
- H W Whittington, “Power and Politics – electricity trade Europe”, IEE Review, pp. 151-154, June 1993.
- H W Whittington, B W Flynn and D E Macpherson, “Switched Mode Power Supplies: Design and Construction”, Research Studies Press, London, 1992. ISBN 0-86380-123-4