Electrical and Computer Systems

Device invented by Dr E. M. Cherry, to take echo out of long-distance telephone conversations
Device invented by Dr E. M. Cherry, to take echo out of long-distance telephone conversations

During the initial discussions between Ken Hunt and the Monash University Council about appointments to the Faculty of Engineering in 1961, Doug Lampard was nominated for the position of Chair in the area of Electrical Engineering and his presence would add substantial weight and credibility to the new university. Lampard was approached and accepted the position in early August 1962, but on the condition that he would be able to head his own separate department within the Faculty. This went against Dean Hunt’s department-less vision for the Faculty of Engineering, but so valued was Lampard’s presence that Hunt agreed to establish departments. And so it was at the insistence of Doug Lampard, that the Department of Electrical Engineering was formed in late 1962.

Staff numbers in the department immediately began to swell. Lampard brought with him from the University of New South Wales his former masters student Steve Redman. Redman became lecturer in electronics and telecommunications, as well as one of the first PhD candidates. At the start of 1964, the Department of Electrical Engineering had six members of staff as listed below:

Electrical Engineering

Professor: Douglas Geoffrey Lampard
Senior lecturers: Karol Morsztyn
  John Arthur Phillips
Lecturers: Robert Kenneth Keenan
  Stephen John Redman
Senior Teaching Fellow: Lucian Gruner

Bill Brown joined the department as Lecturer at the end of 1964, just as the first Engineering student, Peter Annal, was completing his fourth year with first class honours in Electrical Engineering. Housed in what is now called Building 35, Lampard insisted that the department stick together, with workshops and staff offices all in the same building. The Electronics Workshop, Mechanical Workshop and Power Workshop were all completed as part of the first stage of building in 1963 and were fully operational by the beginning of 1964.

pulse transformer
Pulse transformer

During the 1960s there were almost equal numbers of technicians and academic staff within the department, but this ratio decreased substantially over the years. In 1968, Gordon King, the first Laboratory Manager, was appointed. King set a high standard in the supervision of technical staff, order and maintenance of the laboratories and oversight of accounts. The technical staff supported both the teaching of undergraduate classes and research activities.

By the beginning of the 1970s there were eleven academic staff within the department at the level of lecturer or above. Some notable appointments to the department include Senior Lecturers Bill Bonwick and Edward Cherry, both appointed to the department in 1967.

Research activities within the Department of Electrical Engineering during the 1970s included: communication theory, stochastic processes and information theory, control systems, electromagnetic field theory and applications, power systems and electromechanical energy conversion and biophysics.

Professor K. Morsztyn (right) and student S. E. Blanch operating 'power system simulator'
Professor K. Morsztyn (right) and student S. E. Blanch operating 'power system simulator' 

A common year electrical studies course was introduced for all first year engineering students in 1972. Alan Finkel was making his university choices in 1970 and remembers ‘at the time the gossip – and I think it was good gossip – was that electrical engineering at Monash was the best one to choose’.

The undergraduate program evolved quickly and by the 1970s was well established. It was, reflected Bill Brown, more heavily focused on maths and physics than other comparable programs at the time, but it reflected the strengths and interests of the academic staff. Alan Finkel remembers the practical exercises in the later years of his undergraduate degree as being substantially smaller than the large lectures of first year which had close to 350 students. ‘We would have had 50 or 60 people in Electrical Engineering, so the attention was fairly good through the prac classes. You got to speak to the prac instructors, who were typically PhD students or postdoctoral students and the lecturers themselves would walk around.’  

Working closely with technology and keeping abreast of new developments is essential for the engineering discipline. For example, engineers have had a major role in the development of computers, and computing is now an important part of most engineering activity. The Department of Information Science (later renamed the Department of Computer Science) was established in the Faculty of Science in 1968 and many very able students took the BSc (Computer Science)/BE (Electrical Engineering) combination starting in the 1970s and continuing to the present.

Electrical engineering display
Electrical engineering display

Computers and computer sciences especially have a close relationship with engineering. When the Chair of Information Science was advertised in 1966, the then Head of Electrical Engineering, Doug Lampard pushed for the Professorial Board to locate the Department of Information Science - which would be created when the new Chair was appointed - within the Faculty of Engineering. While this suggestion was not supported and the department remained within the Faculty of Science, the Director of the university’s Computer Centre, Cliff Bellamy, played a major role in increasing the presence of practical computing within the Bachelor of Engineering course.

Students learnt to program in Fortran as part of a mathematics subject through the 1970s but it was not until 1979 that the department introduced a computer engineering subject in fourth year. Then in the period 1980 to 1982 a major change took place when the Computer Centre, under the leadership of its Director Cliff Bellamy, worked with the Department to introduce new computing subjects into the BE course. In 1981 the name of the course was changed from Electrical Engineering to Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering to reflect these changes. The corresponding change in the name of the department was not made until 1989.

The 1980s had been an important period of growth for the Department. By the end of the decade there were over twenty members of the academic staff of the rank of Lecturer or above. These numbers swelled to over thirty with the addition of the ex-Chisholm staff after the merger in 1991. Through the 1990s the BE courses at the Clayton and Caulfield campuses remained separate. Prior to the merger and continuing through the 1990s the BE course at Caulfield was entitled Electrical and Computing.

Commencing in the late 1980s a number of specialist research centres were established. The four most important of these were the Intelligent Robotics Research Centre (IRRC), the Centre for Telecommunications and Information Engineering (CTIE), the Centre for Electrical Power Engineering (CEPE) and the Monash University Centre for Biomedical Engineering (MUCBE).

Professor Ray Jarvis, Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering with prototype robot
Professor Ray Jarvis, Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering with prototype robot

The IRRC was established in 1987 by Ray Jarvis and at one stage was the lead node in the ARC Centre for Intelligent and Perceptive Machines in Complex Environments. Research interests include machine perception and robot navigation.

CTIE was strongly funded by Telstra and other outside bodies during the 1990s. Its first director was Fred Symons from Telstra. The Cooperative Research Centre on Research Data Networks ran for six years from 1993, its main focus at Monash being on Advanced Network Systems Performance and Applications. eMERGE, a multimedia centre, ran from 1998 under Greg Egan.

CEPE commenced in 1991 under Bill Bonwick with funding from the SEC and other outside bodies. Its research activities were mainly in the areas of energy storage, power electronics, power systems reliability, electrical machinery and alternative energy sources. An outgrowth of CEPE has been the Centre for Power Transformer Monitoring, Diagnostics and Life Management under Valery Davydov, which still functions today.

MUCBE was established in 1993 under Ian Brown with funding from the Victorian Education Foundation and from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Members of the Centre carried out research in biomechanics, rehabilitation engineering, biomedical instrumentation and ECG analysis.

In 2011 the department has specialised research interests in the areas of biomedical engineering, telecommunications systems, photonics and robotics. In 2010 it obtained a substantial ARC grant for work on a bionic eye.

(Updated Jun 15, 2011) Printed on: