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Celebrating Brunel Exhibition

Celebrating Brunel is the new exhibition in the Eastern Gateway Atrium, curated by the Archives and Special Collections team. It looks at our journey to become the university we know today, celebrating our international and diverse community, and showcasing a snippet of our rich research history and its wider impacts.

 A Technical University

Brunel University was founded as a technology university in 1966, following the receipt of its Royal Charter.

However, you may not know that, Brunel started as Acton Technical College in 1928, before becoming Brunel College of Technology in 1959. Then, following a Government White Paper on technical education, became Brunel College of Advanced Technology (CAT) in 1963 – the tenth and last college. Finally, Brunel became one of a number of CATs promoted to university status by the Robbins Report creating Brunel University, becoming Brunel University London in 2014.

At the time of the Royal Charter, Brunel had only 935 students (867 undergraduates and 68 postgraduates) registered to follow courses in scientific and technological subjects. Over the years, we have expanded and merged with other educational establishments, starting with Shoreditch College (former Runnymede campus) in 1980/81, and then West London Institute of Higher Education (WLIHE) in 1995 which itself had been created from the merger of Borough Road College (former Osterley campus) and Maria Grey College (former Twickenham campus) in 1976. We can therefore trace our history back further than 1966 to 1789 when Joseph Lancaster opened his school for poor children in Southwark which founded the British and Foreign School Society, the organisation that created Borough Road College.

Today, we have over 17,000 students still registered on scientific and technological subjects but alongside arts and humanities, law, health and social care, and business.

Royal Charter

University Charter 1_2Brunel Bulletin No.2 December 1966

The original Charter and Statutes set out the functions and form of government of the new University, such as Council, Senate and Court but also included the intention to continue with the ‘sandwich’ mode of education – still a fundamental part of Brunel.

The drafting of the original Charter and Statutes was a long process, starting in 1963 and finishing in 1965, following a total of 19 drafts. At a meeting of the Privy Council on 9 June 1966, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II approved the grant of this original charter establishing Brunel University – a technological university.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II later granted a new Supplement Charter on 16 July 2014, which updated our constitutional provision and provided for a change of name from Brunel University to Brunel University London. 

Items on display: Charter and Statutes 1966, Brunel Bulletin, Number 2, December 1966 showing the Charter seal.

Coat of Arms

Brunel Coat of arms

The Coat of Arms was received in June 1970 from the College of Arms.

The heraldic description is given in the Patent as ‘Azure a Pair of Dividers chevronwise proper in base on a Pile reversed Or a Lozenge Ermine a Chief enarched in the form of a bridge of masonry proper AND for the Crest On a Wreath of the Colours A swan wings addorsed proper about the neck a Mural Crown Or resting the dexter foot on a Cogwheel proper’.

The masonry symbolises Brunel’s bridges, the compasses symbolise technology, and the ermine lozenge is an allusion to the Arms of Lord Halsbury, the first Chancellor of the University. The crest of a swan symbolises Uxbridge, the mural collar links with the bridge motif and the cogwheel with the compasses.

Items on display: Brunel Bulletin, Number 8, July 1971 showing the Coat of Arms

Diverse and International

Brunel has always been a vibrant diverse and multi-cultural university.

Even in its early years as a university, Brunel welcomed students, staff and visitors from all over the world and encouraged staff and students to contribute to academic and research developments worldwide.

This international tradition can be traced further back to our predecessor colleges – especially Borough Road College (former Osterley campus) and Maria Grey College (former Twickenham campus). In both Colleges, students attended from all over the world including Barbados, Egypt, Madagascar and Vietnam. Once qualified, students went out to places like Australia, Belize, South Africa and Malaysia to teach or establish schools.

Over the years, Brunel has successfully developed links with numerous overseas institutions – as visiting academics lecturing and advising on academic and higher education issues, research collaborations and regular student exchange programmes. Brunel has continually strived to be fair and inclusive, and to treat everyone with dignity and respect so that we all have the same opportunities to succeed.

Our students, our strong links with overseas countries and institutions, and our world-class research have made Brunel a truly diverse and international community – achieving our ambition to equip students for the world of work and to address society’s challenges on a global scale.

We are proud of this heritage.

Borough Road College - First register of male students 1804-1821

Register of Master front

Borough Road College is one of our predecessor colleges and the University’s former Osterley campus at Isleworth.  It dates back to 1798 when Joseph Lancaster opened a school for children of the poor in his father’s house in Southwark.  It developed into a teacher-training establishment and moved to Isleworth in 1890, later merging with Maria Grey College and Chiswick Polytechnic to become West London Institute of Higher Education, which subsequently merged with Brunel in 1995.

Even in its early days, a few students each year came from overseas to study including Sierra Leon, Russia and Greece.

Items on display: First register of male students 1804 – 1821

The register on display is open on the page for 1813, showing the registration of four students, James Coy, George Fox, William Allen and Joseph Smith, who are all from Africa.  They were recommended to Borough Road College by the African Institution, and went to Sierra Leone after their teacher training.  The African Institution was founded in 1807 after the abolition of slavery in the United Kingdom. 

Maria Grey College - Photograph 1905-1907

Maria Grey College

Maria Grey College is one of our predecessor colleges and the University’s former Twickenham campus.  The College was opened by the Teachers’ Training and Registration Society (TTRS) on 1 May 1978 in Bishopsgate, London.  It moved to Twickenham in 1946, later merging with Borough Road College and Chiswick Polytechnic in 1976 to form the West London Institute of Higher Education, which in turn became part of Brunel University in 1995.

The earliest record of an international student enrolling at Maria Grey College was Anne Shunmugun from Madras [Chennai], who arrived in 1882.  In 1904, Miss Brock, a member of MGC staff for 11 years, left to take up the position of Inspector of Schools in Bengal.  She arranged for two students from India to attend the College each year, sponsored by the Indian government, in order to return to India to train other women to be teachers.

Item on display: Student photo, Maria Grey College 1905-1907

Photo shows the two Indian students, one of them know to be Atiya Fyzee from Chennai(Madras).

Equality and Diversity

Brunel London's Equality, Diversity and Inclusion StrategyPolicy for transgender studentsRound pride sign PS-0

To strengthen our culture of equality and diversity, the University appointed Professor Linda Thomas as the University’s ‘Equality Champion’ in 2005. The role was pivotal to supporting the University’s equality agenda, alongside the Staff and Student Race Equality Review Groups. They were created to conduct impact assessments of university policies to determine if our policies had differential impacts on particular groups.

Around the same time, the University established a number of Staff Focus Groups. The role of the Groups was to advise the University on issues that were, or might affect the environment in which they worked. These Groups were – Harassment and Bullying, Access and Disability, Ethnic Minority, Spirituality, and Women’s. The current Staff Network Groups and Support Groups grew from these.

Our current Staff Network Groups – Women’s Equality and Network Group, LGBTQ+ Staff Network, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Network, Carers Staff Network Group, Access and Disability Staff Equality Network – support colleagues, raise awareness, impact access decision making and enable innovative approaches to make Brunel stronger. Our Support Groups – Armed Forces, Harassment and Bullying, Menopause Support and Working Families provide emotional and moral support.

Through these Groups and our Equality and Diversity Policies and Strategy, including, for example, the Policy for Transgender Students, and annual Equality and Diversity Reports, the University continues to provide and develop a culture that is fully committed to equal opportunities and one which represents the diversity of our community.

Our aim is to ensure that the University’s Archives continue to show our international and diverse community.

Items on display: Brunel University London’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, 2021- 24; Policy for Transgender Students, March 2019; Brunel University London LGBTQ+ Staff and Student Networks, lollipop from London Pride 2022

Research Festival

From the very beginning research has been enshrined in our Charter, and continues to be at the heart of all we do. 

It underpins the courses we offer, and the academic work of our students.  It is also responsible for much of our collaborative work with industry, business and the public sector.

In 1966, we received some of our first contracts from the Science Research Council, and the Board of Trade for science and technology research.  Since then, the grants we have received are for a much broader range of subjects and from a variety of organisations including The Royal Society, CERN, Sport England, Innovate UK, Horizon/EU, The Leverhulme Trust, and Alan Turing Institute – to name but a few.

Here is an insight into some of our innovative and ground-breaking research that has been achieved over the years, and the positive impact it has made both within the UK and worldwide – showing Brunel to be a research-intensive university that addresses the challenges of society and the wider world.  

Auditory Response Cradle

Brunel Bulletin

The University has a long association with Hillingdon Hospital but one significant piece of collaborative research was the development of the Auditory Response Cradle (ARC) in the 1970/1980s.

Between 1980-2004 babies born at Hillingdon Hospital had their hearing tested using the auditory response cradle which had been developed over a 12-year period here at Brunel.  The Cradle was a trolley-mounted unit which contained a pressure sensitive mattress and head rest, which could detect hearing loss in babies just a few days after birth, based on head rotation, respiratory changes and general body activity such as startling.  This early diagnosis allowed for remedial treatments to be applied immediately, rather than rely on observations from medical professionals which would probably mean many babies would have not been diagnosed, until later. 

Thousands of babies had their hearing tested at Hillingdon Hospital before the National Hearing Screening programme was introduced in the UK.  The Cradle was marketed to the UK, US, Canada and Australasia, and we believe it is still in use today in hospitals around the world.

Item on display: Brunel Bulletin, December 1979 – ‘So you think your baby is deaf…’ article by Dr Bennett, Clinical Research Section, Department of Mechanical Engineering

Technical Education and Attitudes to Work

The first industrial periodThe education of tehcnologists

Marie Jahoda, (1907-2001) was born in Vienna, and trained as a teacher and psychologist in her home city. Forced into exile to the UK between 1937 and 1945 because of her beliefs and activities, she established her new career in New York after the Second World War.  She joined Brunel College in 1958, when she was appointed director of a new research project established at Brunel College on "Technical Education and Attitudes to work" (subsequently known as the Nuffield Research Project), to examine the effects of the sandwich course system on the attitudes of students to life and work. 

The project was Brunel's first foray into the social sciences.  In 1962 a Department of Psychology was created, building on the staff and experience of the Nuffield Research Project under the Headship of Professor Jahoda.  A four-year sandwich course in Psychology began a year later.  She played a founding role in the establishment of social science education at Brunel until her departure in 1965 for the University of Sussex. 

The Marie Jahoda building was renamed in 2006 in her honour. 

Items on display: The First Industrial Period – A Pilot Study and Research Implications, Progress Report No. 1, Nuffield Research Project, Maria Jahoda, October 1959; and The Education of Technologists – An Exploratory Case Study at Brunel, Maria Jahoda, 1963

Public health challenges

Brunel News Jan 1999 No 14Brunel News Feb 1999 No 15HERG Report 3HERG Report 22

There are many elements that contribute to the health of individuals and the health of the nation from life-saving treatments of disease to making judgements on where to spend public money most effectively.

At Brunel, we have for a number of years been involved in ground-breaking cancer research.  Initially this research was conducted by Professor Trevor Slater and then Professor Rob Newbold and the Brunel Institute of Cancer Genetics and Pharmacogenomics (BICGP) which opened in 2000.

One of the aims of the Institute was to identify and characterise new genes and molecular pathways involved in human cancer, which then can be targeted with therapeutic therapies.  The Institute identified at least six major human cancers enabling the development of cancer fighting drugs and further understanding of the causes of breast and prostate cancer and in malignant melanoma.  Working closely with the pharmaceutical industry and small biotech companies, and supported by Cancer Research UK and other cancer charities, the Institute has translated information about cancer to enable new therapies and diagnostics.

Alongside this, Dr Sonia Jones worked with the US National Foundation for Cancer in 1993 to develop a new test for the early detection of cervical cancer, known as PAP test.  Brunel researchers in collaboration with colleagues at UCL created a simple test for children which could identify a protein marker, which when absent, meant the cancer neuroblastoma would almost certainly occur, enabling further chemotherapy treatment without delay.

Cancer research is now part of the Centre for Inflammation Research and Translation Medicine (CIRTM).

In comparison, the Health Economic Research Group (HERG) has provided research on policy both nationally and internationally on a range of subjects from tobacco control to child vaccination, often changing government policy and/or processes.

For example, one piece of research looked at abdominal aortic aneurysms, a disease that kills nearly 7,000 men each year, which led to the introduction of a screening programme for men over the age of 65.  Thousands have been offered the screening in the UK, and guideline across Europe and North America have been altered, halving the number of deaths.

HERG has also looked at financial aspects relating to public health.  In 2014, they demonstrated that for every pound the UK invests in cancer research, 40 pence is earned in benefit every day, thereafter.  These findings were presented to an All-Party Parliamentary Group for Medical Research – the first of its kind to link economic gains with publicly-funded cancer research. 

Items on display: Brunel Scientists Lead Fight against Breast Cancer, Brunel News No 14, January 1999 and Brunel Scientists Launch Cover-Up, Brunel News No 15, February 1999. 
Measuring and Valuing Health States Relating to Visual Impairment: A Review of Literature, Concepts and Methods, HERG Research Report No 3; The Costs and Cost-Effectiveness of Cardiovascular Screening and Intervention, HERG Research Report No 22

Made in Brunel

Made in Brunel Poster PSMade in Brunel prosp 2006 front cover

Made in Brunel is the annual showcase for the innovative, enterprising and creative work of our Engineering and Design students which can be traced back to the early years of Shoreditch Training College. It is the opportunity for final year students to present their talent, vision and skills by displaying their work to fellow students, the University, employers, designers and manufacturers.

From the traditional craftmanship of Shoreditch Training College, Made in Brunel is now delivering globally-appropriate mass-produced design concepts for the 21st Century – connecting design and industry together.  Over the years, students have designed new and exciting products such as ‘Stimuli’, an intelligent lighting system, the ‘Water Cycle’ project to address the challenges of purifying water in the developing world, the ‘Daffodil Phototherapy’ a treatment for neonatal jaundice, ‘Tulipe’, an intelligent plant pot, a flat-pack malaria prevention cot for Cambodia, and ‘Mimica Touch’, smart food packaging that reduces food waste and improves food safety.

These ground-breaking inventions showcased in Made in Brunel, honour the skill and attention to detail of the past but look to shape our future.

Items on display: Brunel University Design Technology Exhibition, 1981; Pure Degree Show, 14-16 June 1999; and Made in Brunel 2006

Engineering meets medicine

Trophy PS-0Reporter No 84 July 1989 p 4

Brunel Institute for Bioengineering (BIB) founded in 1983 by Professor Heinz Wolff (1928-2017) has been at the cutting edge of research in medicine, biology, engineering and space.

Over the years, BIB have been involved in successfully delivering many research projects including Tools for Living (TfL) and Millennium Homes.  Both developed concepts from design to actual production with hospitals and industry to improve the quality of life for disabled people and the elderly.  Working with the Brunel Wolfson Centre, the Centre for Disabled Research and the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital they developed spinal braces for scoliosis as well as other orthopaedic supports. More recently, they developed the counter-current chromatography (CCC) equipment which allows the production of new medicines to be dramatically scaled up.

BIB has been a key contributor to the European Space Agency and the NASA space programmes.  The BIB team developed the concept of the Glovebox (GBX) an experimental facility for the Space Shuttle USML Mission.  The Glovebox enabled scientists to perform fluid and material science experiments safely in space without contaminating the closed environment of the Spacelab and endangering the crew.  The Glovebox is on display in the Heinz Wolff Building, but the trophy from Bradford Engineering who manufactured the Glovebox can be seen here.

Even more interesting is that the late Professor Heinz Wolff was instrumental is the Juno project, the Soviet space mission to the Mir space station in 1991, when Helen Sharman became the first British astronaut.  Helen was selected from over 13,000 applicants following an advert – ‘Astronaut wanted.  No experience required!’  She followed an extensive training programme, before being launched into space on the Soyuz TM-22 mission alongside Soviet cosmonauts Anatoly Artsebarsky and Sergei Krikalev on 18 May 1991.  Her mission on the Mir space station lasted 8 days during which time she carried out numerous experiments.  She safely returned to Earth on 26 May 1991 with Viktor Afanasyev and Musa Manarov.

Items on display: Glovebox trophy from Bradford Engineering; Stop Press! Brunel involved in Anglo-Soviet Space Mission and Advert ‘Astronaut wanted.  No experience required!’, Brunel Reporter, No 84 July 1989

Towards a Better Environment


Brunel has a long history of pioneering research into human impact on the environment dating back to 1978, when Professor John Sumpter established a research group to examine environmental toxicology with particular emphasis on the causes and effects of endocrine disruption in aquatic wildlife.  This work expanded into the Institute for the Environment, headed by Professor Sumpter until 2011 and then Professor Susan Jobling, now part of the Institute of Health, Medicine and Environments, headed by Professor Christina Victor.

The ground-breaking work of the Institute for the Environment, not only changed government attitudes, but was recognised in 2012 as one of the ‘Diamond Jubilee’ winners of the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Further and Higher Education.

This work significantly influenced European legislation banning the discharge of hormone disrupting and other chemicals into wastewater, improving water quality and benefitting human health and human life.

Item on display: Institute for the Environment – World Class Research and Training; and Leading Edge, Issue 23, Spring 2012 

Abuse in Sport

SpoilsportsSexual harrassment and absue in sportA literature review

Professor Celia Brackenridge (1950-2018), was a pioneering campaigner and researcher into gender equality and child abuse in sport.

She worked as Director of Brunel's Centre for Youth Sport and Athlete Welfare from 2005 until her retirement in 2010.  She then became research professor and a member of the Brunel Centre for Sport, Health and Wellbeing.

Celia received an OBE in January 2012 for services to Equality and Child Protection in Sport, and she was awarded the Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award in December 2016. 

The University holds Celia Brackenridge archives which include her PhD thesis and portfolio, research papers, articles, reports, books and book chapters by Celia, and research correspondence on sexual abuse in sport.

Her work and collaborations with the NSPCC, UNICEF, International Olympic Committee, paralympic movement and Dame Janet Smith’s enquiry into sexual abuse perpetrated by Jimmy Saville, brought what many would not believe to national and international attention.

The Brighton Declaration on Women and Sport, in which Celia was involved, promoted the participation of women at all levels within sport, including coaching and administration. This has now been taken up by more than 400 international organisations.

Items on display: Spoilsport – understanding and preventing sexual exploitation in Sport, Celia Brackenridge 2001; Sexual Harassment and Abuse in Sport – International Research and Policy Perspectives, Celia Brackenridge and Kari Fasting, 2002; and A Literature Review of Sexual Orientation in Sport, review by Celia Brackenridge, Pam Alldred, Ali Jarvis, Katie Maddocks and Ian Rivers, 2008.