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The gift of a lifetime: Half-a-million to boost engineering

How the new entrance to the Queen's Building, off Woodland Road, will look once complete.

16 February 2017

The foundations of John Partridge’s life and career were laid here at Bristol, and now he is laying down the foundations for future generations of engineers with a record half-a-million-pound donation towards the new £13 million facility at the University of Bristol.

When John Partridge (BEng 1962, Hon DEng 2016) came to study at Bristol in 1959, he arrived at a state-of-the-art Queen’s Engineering Building to learn how to build aeroplanes and play jazz. Instead, he graduated with a newfound love for diving, his future wife, and having 'invented' the basic principles of long-baseline underwater acoustic navigation. He used this technology to set up his company Sonardyne – a leading independent global provider of underwater acoustic and sonar technology.

Now, 58 years later, John returned to the building where he began his studies to take part in a special topping-out ceremony for the new wing in the Queen’s Building. It will feature a new electrical engineering laboratory, flexible teaching spaces for practical engineering, a laboratory for design work, a brand new hi-tech propulsion laboratory, and study rooms for group and presentation work. 

John said: ‘Engineering education is an important part of the UK’s future. I’ve benefitted from the education I received at Bristol and feel passionate about ensuring students in the future have access to the best courses, facilities and teaching.’

Thanks to the record gift from The Sonardyne Foundation, the charity arm of Sonardyne Group Ltd, the University has been able to buy the very latest, cutting-edge equipment for the new Electrical Engineering Teaching Laboratory. ​It will advance innovative and practical teaching methods, and will provide our world-leading academics with what they need to inspire the next generation of students with the very best education.

‘It’s really exciting to have the opportunity to enthuse young people and encourage them to pursue a career in engineering. They will boost Britain’s talent pipeline, which in turn will benefit the entire engineering industry,’ said John.

The impact of John’s passion is felt at Bristol in so many ways. At the beginning of his second year, John also founded the University of Bristol Underwater Club, which offers affordable and exciting diving opportunities to all, and continues to thrive today. You can read all about his inventive nature, and his life-saving adventures with a giant 12-metre-long stinging jellyfish on our webpages.

John Partridge may have emerged from Bristol inspired to dive deep instead of taking to the skies. But the University of Bristol and the students that follow him have, and will be, forever shaped by the foundations laid by John Partridge.

Further information

More information about our new £13 million facility to boost engineering education in Bristol can be found on our news pages.

The University seeks to raise a further £1million towards this exciting project. Should you wish to support, please contact Jane Keenan at

Sonardyne is a leading independent global provider of underwater acoustic and sonar technology for oceanography, oil drilling, underwater threat detection, Monitoring of carbon capture and storage, and tsunami early warning systems. Sonardyne’s acoustic technology has also been used to improve underwater mapping to help navigation in the Thames estuary, and the company was also heavily involved in mapping, excavating and lifting King Henry VIII’s historic shipwreck the Mary Rose in 1982.