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BT launches Tommy Flowers Institute

19 October 2016

BT launches Tommy Flowers Institute

A new Higher Education ICT training institute, named after computing pioneer Tommy Flowers, has been opened at BT’s Adastral Park technology and research campus near Ipswich, Suffolk.

The institute will focus on bringing ICT-sector organisations together with academic researchers to solve some of the challenges facing UK businesses, exploring areas such as cyber-security, ‘Big Data’, autonomics and converged networks.

Lectures and workshops will begin this autumn.

The Institute has been designed to create world-class research leaders who can improve the impact of research for both universities and the digital business community in the UK.

It will also aim to improve the links between academic research and commercial opportunities in the industry so that research leads to new product innovations for consumers and businesses.

Mind the gap

Dr Tim Whitley, head of research for BT, and MD of Adastral Park, said: “This institute will bridge the gap between industrial research and the fantastic talent that exists in the academic sector.”

He added: “It’s appropriate that it is named after Tommy Flowers, a true pioneer of computing and communications technology, who brought together the best of industry and academia to create the world’s first electronic programmable computer.”

The vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia, together with the pro-cice-chancellor of the University of Essex, have joined forces with professors from Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial, Southampton, Surrey, Lancaster and many more universities to launch the initiative in conjunction with major technology companies including Huawei, Ericsson, CISCO, ARM and ADVA.

Close collaboration

Dr Richard Burguete, postgraduate institute director, National Physical Laboratory, said:

“The TFI will become a vibrant hub at the centre of academia and industry for ICT that aligns with the mission of our national laboratory, and as it complements our own Post Graduate Institute we look forward to working closely together. TFI will enhance the capabilities of the UK’s postgraduate students through an exciting array of activities, conferences and networking opportunities. We fully support this initiative and will help it to succeed.”

Tommy Flowers was an electrical engineer working in the telecommunications division of the General Post Office, which later became BT in 1981.

Breaking the code

In November 1943 Flowers developed ‘Colossus’ at the Ministry of Defence’s code-breaking facility in Bletchley Park. The world’s first programmable computer, Colossus was designed to counter the reputedly unbreakable Lorenz cipher used by the German high command.

The thermionic valve-based, programmable Colossus successfully broke the Lorenz cipher and went on to provide information critical to the success of the D-Day landings and Allied war effort.

After the war, Flowers went on to direct ground-breaking research in the field of telecommunications, including the development of the first all-electronic telephone exchange.