Computer Laboratory


The William Gates Building, completed Summer 2001 The Computer Laboratory is an academic department within the University of Cambridge that encompasses Computer Science, along with many aspects of Engineering, Technology and Mathematics. Professor Andy Hopper is the Head of Department.

The Laboratory undertakes research in a broad range of subjects within the disciplines of Computer Science, Engineering, Technology, and Mathematics. Current research areas include bioinformatics, computer architecture, computer vision, distributed systems, graphics and human-computer interaction, logic and semantics, machine learning, natural language processing, networking and wireless communication, operating systems and virtualization, programming, security, and sustainable computing.

The Cambridge Diploma in Computer Science, which ran from 1953 to 2008, was the world's first taught course in computing. Undergraduate teaching was introduced in 1970. The MPhil in Advanced Computer Science, is a one-year postgraduate course designed to prepare students for doctoral research.

At present there are about 300 undergraduate and 50 MPhil students. A further 120 postgraduates are engaged in research for the PhD.

Building on its long and distinguished history, the Computer Laboratory continues with world class teaching and research.

The Computer Laboratory is housed in the William Gates Building on the West Cambridge Site. Contact details can be found on the contacts page, and instructions for how to get to the Computer Laboratory can be found on the directions page.

A brief history of the Laboratory

Mathematical Laboratory entrance in the 1950s Cambridge has been an internationally respected centre of learning since the 13th century. Over the course of the last century the University of Cambridge has been the origin of fundamental advances in nuclear physics, molecular biology and computer science. Over three hundred companies and commercial laboratories specialising in computing and advanced technology are concentrated in the area.

The Computer Laboratory was founded in 1937 (as the Mathematical Laboratory) for work on mechanical calculators and analogue computers. It became involved in digital computing after 1945 under the direction of Professor Maurice Wilkes. Some of the Cambridge developments of that period belong in the basic stock of computing knowledge, for example the ideas of subroutines and of microprogramming.

In those early days the study of computing as an academic subject and the provision of computing facilities to the University as a whole were intimately bound together. The research undertaken involved either the production of workable computer systems (both hardware and software) or the development of new computer application techniques. Original pioneering work in building complete computers (the EDSAC was commissioned in 1949 and the EDSAC 2 in 1958) gave way to the early development of programming languages and operating systems. The latter included the first British time-sharing operating system on the Titan computer. In 1980 Professor Roger Needham succeeded Wilkes as head of the laboratory, a post which he held for 15 years. Subsequent heads have been Professor Robin Milner, Professor Ian Leslie (later pro-vice chancellor) and Professor Andy Hopper. The 50th anniversary of EDSAC was celebrated in a two-day event, EDSAC 99.

For a more detailed history of the Laboratory, see Karen Sparck-Jones' "informal history of the Computer Laboratory", originally compiled for EDSAC 99 and updated to include information about the Laboratory's most recent history.

Haroon Ahmed has writen an extensively illustrated, highly readable and informative account of computing in Cambridge, from Babbage to the present day. His book is available as a PDF to download entitled Cambridge Computing – The First 75 Years.