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Alan Turing



e University of Manchester commemorates the centenary of Alan Turing:

founding theorist of computer science, code-breaker and creative user of

Manchester’s early computers.

He was a member of the University from 1948 to his death in 1954.


Turing had become famous for his 1937 paper introducing the a ‘universal

machine’ – one that could do the work of all possible calculating devices.

During the Second World War, he was recruited to Bletchley Park, helping

decode German messages that had been encoded by Enigma machines.

Photo by: Rex Features ©

Oxford Road, mid-1940s

An Enigma Machine

2 Late in 1948, Turing was brought to Manchester by the new Professor of

Pure Mathematics, Max Newman, who had worked with Turing at

Cambridge and Bletchley. Newman had won a Royal Society grant to

develop a computer in Manchester, and Turing was to be Deputy Director

of the Computing Machine Laboratory.


But when Turing arrived in Manchester, he found that the world’s first

electronic stored-program computer was already operating, created by

Freddie Williams, the new Professor of Electrical Engineering, and his

assistant Tom Kilburn. Williams and Kilburn had worked together

during the war, on the secret radar project at Malvern.

Manchester University Computer, 1949

Coupland I Building


Turing helped with programming, and

from 1951 he worked in a purpose-built

annexe housing a new machine, the

Ferranti Mark I, developed with the

engineering firm Ferranti, which was

based in Manchester.

5 6

As his colleagues continued to develop the programming,

Turing was free to focus on wider issues and on projects

which could use the computer. e best known of his

Manchester publications introduced the ‘Turing test’, a way to

define whether machines could think.

Turing also worked on a computer model of a

chemical reaction-diffusion process which might

explain the emergence of patterns in biological

organisms. Turing’s research student, Bernard

Richards, applied reaction-diffusion equations to

spherical forms. As Turing expected, they

produced the symmetrical ‘spines’ seen in

microscopic sea animal called Radiolaria.

Alan Turing with two colleagues and the Ferranti Mark I computer, Jan 1951


e Manchester Museum, a part of e University of Manchester, has

created a free exhibition around Turing’s work on Morphogenesis.

Alan Turing and Life’s Enigma is open until 18 November 2012.

For other local Turing events see

Alan Turing



In e University of Manchester, Turing was part of a remarkably creative

community which drew heavily on war-time experiences.

Photo by: Associated Newspapers /Daily Mail /Rex Features Photo by: Smithsonian Institution Archives




In the years aer 1945, Manchester suffered from wardamage

and continued shortages, but carried out many of

the plans which had sustained war-time morale. e

University benefited greatly from the skills, and sometimes

the equipment, which staff brought from their war work.

Blackett’s close friend and strenuous political opponent,

Michael Polanyi, had been Professor of Physical Chemistry

but turned to Social Studies in 1948. Polanyi argued with

Turing about ‘thinking machines’. His book Personal

Knowledge was a major inspiration for the later field of

science studies.

Turing discussed thermodynamics with the local physical

chemists, who invited Ilya Prigogine, later a Nobel Laureate,

to debate the emergence of order in biological systems.

Turing discussed growth and form with

the Manchester botanist Claude

Wardlaw, a specialist in plant

development. Also working in the

botany department was Kathleen Drew

Baker, whose work on the life cycles of

seaweed rescued the Japanese Nori

industry from collapse.

Michael Polanyi




Patrick Blackett

Patrick Blackett, the head of the Physics

Department, supported the computer project, and

two of the key assistants were recent physics

graduates. Blackett gained his Nobel Prize in 1948,

but turned from cosmic ray research to

geomagnetism, helping to inspire the new science

of plate tectonics. He continued to argue strongly

for state planning of science, whilst campaigning

against Britain’s development of atomic weapons.

Charles Husband and Bernard Lovell

Among the lecturers in physics was Bernard

Lovell, who had also worked on the radar project

at Malvern. Lovell pioneered radio astronomy at

Jodrell Bank, using war-surplus radar equipment.

Lovell soon became a regular user of the Ferranti

Mark I computer.

Turing’s claim that machines could think was vigorously debated,

within the University and in the national media. His local opponents

included Polanyi and the famous neurosurgeon, Geoffrey Jefferson.

Kathleen Drew

Turing committed suicide as a result of repressive attitudes towards

homosexuality. e work he shared with Manchester colleagues is now

acclaimed across the world.

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