View all news

New £15 million facility to boost engineering education in Bristol

The topping-out ceremony. From l-r: Professor Andrew Nix (Dean of Engineering), Neal Stephens (Managing Director Willmott Dixon Wales and the West), Professor Hugh Brady (Vice-Chancellor), Professor Guy Orpen (Deputy Vice-Chancellor), John Partridge (alumnus and donor) and Professor Judith Squires (Pro Vice-Chancellor) Tim Pestridge Photography

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

The atrium in the new wing of the Queen's Building

Press release issued: 22 February 2017

A new £15 million facility at the University of Bristol is set to boost the future of engineering education in Bristol, improving learning opportunities for students and creating more highly-skilled graduates.

Structural work to the new wing of the Queen's Building, which houses many of the University's world-leading engineering research and teaching facilities, has now been completed ahead of its opening in autumn 2017.

Queen Elizabeth II opened the original building, on University Walk, in 1958 and the extension promises to bring facilities into the 21st Century. Willmott Dixon is the main contractor for the project and has been working on site since April 2016.

The 1,435 square metre new wing of the Queen's Building will house state-of-the-art equipment as well as significantly increasing the amount of flexible teaching and learning space.

A record £500,000 donation from The Sonardyne Foundation, the charity arm of Sonardyne Group Ltd, was arranged by the company's founder and Bristol alumnus, John Partridge.

This has enabled the University to buy the very latest equipment for a new Electrical Engineering Teaching Laboratory – which forms a major part of the new extension to the same building where John began his studies in 1959.

The new wing features a large flexible teaching space for some 400 students which will also be used for open day activities, exams, summer schools and events.

It also includes an undergraduate laboratory space with demonstration areas, meeting rooms, small working group spaces and research offices.

The vital additional space will enable many more students to study Engineering at Bristol, with the number of students in the faculty due to increase by 13 per cent to 3,400 by 2019.

A special topping-out ceremony was held today [22 February], marking the structural completion of the building. It's performed to ensure no evil spirits are trapped in the building and to bring good luck and prosperity to the building.

To mark his significant contribution to the project, John Partridge will perform the traditional act of placing a black mulberry tree branch on the uppermost part of the building before sprinkling it with wine, oil, corn and salt – a practice which dates back to Saxon times.

John said: "I benefitted enormously 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. The opportunity to enthuse young people and encourage them to pursue a career in engineering is really exciting. They will boost Britain’s talent pipeline, which in turn will benefit Britain's industry."

Thanks to John, the Electrical Engineering Teaching Laboratory will house modern, powerful and versatile equipment which will greatly enhance laboratory exercises and cover a much broader range of techniques, equipping students with essential skills for getting top engineering jobs.

Professor Andrew Nix, Dean of Engineering at the University of Bristol, said: "Part of our teaching ethos at Bristol is to prepare students for life after graduation, and learning on the most up-to-date equipment is an essential part of that approach. Both the city and the University have a rich engineering history and we hope the new facilities, alongside our plans to expand student numbers, will cement this position and help address the shortfall of skilled engineers in the UK."

A Propulsion Laboratory will house double the number of teaching engines than previously available and, for the first time, will offer Bristol students the opportunity to learn on an aeronautical jet turbine engine.

Neal Stephens, Managing Director Willmott Dixon Wales and the West, said: "We are very proud to reach this topping-out milestone for the Queen's Building. Willmott Dixon and the University of Bristol have worked closely together ensuring that our construction has minimised disruption and provided positive learning opportunities for students.

"We are maximising local spend whilst providing local training and employment. Together we have already achieved great success within the campus community and we look forward to delivering the finished building later this year."

Further information

Information about John Partridge and Sonardyne

John Partridge (BEng 1962 and Hon DEng 2016) is an alumnus of the University of Bristol and founder of deep ocean instrumentation specialists, the Sonardyne group.

John was apprenticed to the Bristol Aeroplane Company and graduated from the University of Bristol in Mechanical Engineering in 1962.

Though fascinated by aviation from a young age, while at University he founded the diving club and organised an underwater zoology expedition to Norway. This experience diverted John's attention from aero-engineering to acquiring electronics skills necessary for solving two major limitations of SCUBA diving, the inability to communicate or navigate accurately underwater.

Even with today's technology, neither radio nor GPS are effective when submerged. Sound waves, i.e. sonar, must be used instead. Nine years of inventing in his spare time led to the incorporation of Sonardyne in 1971, just in time for the growth of the North Sea oil industry. But the technology developed for divers in shallow water had to be adapted to oil drilling in deep oceans.

Today, Sonardyne owns subsidiary companies on all continents, exports to 50 countries and is one of the top few companies in the world for positioning seabed objects precisely or mapping the contours of the deepest oceans with pin-point accuracy. 

A nascent tsunami can be sensed as it passes over a Sonardyne seabed 'Tsunameter' and a warning flashed to land by satellite. Underwater intruders threatening a harbour can be detected automatically, and the slow subsidence of the seabed can be monitored as oil is pumped out of the underlying rock.

The Sonardyne Foundation, the associated charity of which John is a trustee, is committed to supporting engineering education, has funded the construction of an Engineering and Design and Technology Centre at Alton College in Hampshire and awards bursaries for first degree studies at universities.

Edit this page