A timeline of Berkeley Engineering history

Early class of engineering majors

The foundation

1868: From the beginning, engineering has been a core part of Berkeley’s curriculum and identity.

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The College of Mechanic Arts is founded as part of the original University of California. The curriculum is multidisciplinary and includes courses in the contemporary technologies relating primarily to machining, mining and steam power. Early engineers study German, metallurgy, geology, political economy and civil engineering. Upperclass engineering students are responsible for running the university’s power plant as part of their shop class. (UC Berkeley photo)

Earthquake science

1887: Earth sciences professors set up the first string of seismographic stations in the Western hemisphere to track earthquake data.

The electrification of California

1892: California’s growing economy and industries look to Berkeley engineers for help building the state’s early energy infrastructure.

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Clarence L. Cory teaches the first electrical engineering courses at Berkeley to meet California’s growing demand for electricity. San Francisco’s electric street lights are the first in the world, while Los Angeles develops the world’s largest electric street car system.

Julia Morgan, 1890

Julia Morgan graduates

1894: Julia Morgan, the only woman in her class, graduates with a degree in civil engineering.

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While at Berkeley, Morgan finds a mentor in well-known California architect Bernard Maybeck, who teaches technical drawing to engineering students. When Morgan graduates she continues her studies at École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. She is the first woman to study there. Morgan begins her career as an architect in San Francisco and goes on to design more than 700 buildings. In 2014, Morgan is posthumously awarded the Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects in recognition of her influence on the profession.

Medical diagnostics

1895: Only a week after the announcement of Roentgen’s discovery of the X-ray in Germany, a group of young Berkeley engineers, led by mechanical engineering professor Joseph Nisbet LeConte, hack together some cathode ray tubes they find in the physics department to create their own imaging equipment.

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They use their new machine to take images of a small boy — another professor’s son, who was accidently shot in the arm. Using the image, they were able to determine the location of the bullet. Their machine was probably the first use of medical imaging in the country. LeConte spent his summers exploring the Sierra Nevada, making maps and naming peaks. Along with John Muir, he was one of the founding members of the Sierra Club and served as the club’s president for years.

Panorama of Berkeley campus in 1900

The decade of pioneering new technologies

1900: Increasing energy efficiency and experimenting with emerging technologies become underpinning themes of the college’s research.

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Berkeley engineers pioneer high voltage power transmission technologies, which allow San Francisco and Los Angeles to grow by harnessing hydroelectric power from the Sierra Nevada. Berkeley engineers also develop electric vehicles that can travel 100 miles per charge. (Photo courtesy the Bancroft Library)

preliminary study for Sather Gate by campus architect John Galen Howard

Building the “City of Learning”

1903: John Galen Howard starts to turn a loose collection of buildings into an iconic university campus.

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John Galen Howard established the architecture department and begins executing the university’s architectural plan. His legacy includes Sather Gate and Sather Tower (the Campanile), Hearst Greek Theatre, California Memorial Stadium and Hearst Memorial Mining Building. (UC Berkeley photo)

Rube Goldberg

Rube Goldberg graduates

1904: Rube Goldberg graduates from the College of Mining. Goldberg brings engineering concepts and humor to a nationwide audience through his syndicated newspaper cartoons depicting characters using elaborately complicated machines to complete simple tasks.

Hearst Memorial Mining

1907: Construction of Hearst Memorial Mining Building is complete.

College of Mechanics graduating class, 1909

Student snapshot

1909: The year’s graduating class from the College of Mechanics (UC Berkeley photo)

Mining students outside Lawson Adit

Mine safety

1911: Reflecting California’s Gold Rush roots, mining and mineral extraction are popular majors for early Berkeley students.

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Mining students practice mining rescue techniques outside the Lawson Adit, a teaching and research mine located in the hill behind Hearst Memorial Mining Building. (Photo courtesy the Bancroft Library)

The hall's namesake, Friedrich G. Hesse

Hesse Hall construction is complete

1924: Hesse Hall houses the growing college. The building provides space for a motor, generator, radio labs and test rooms.

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Hesse Hall is named after Friedrich G. Hesse, who was appointed the first engineering faculty member in 1875. Hesse also served as the first Dean of the College of Mechanics in 1896.  (Photo courtesy the Bancroft Library)

Engineering buildings on the site of the current Bechtel Engineering Center

The College of Engineering is established

1931:  The colleges of Mechanics and Civil Engineering merge to form the College of Engineering, and electrical engineering becomes a department in the new college. McLaughlin Hall, which serves as the administrative hub, is completed. The College of Mining joins the college in 1941. (UC Berkeley photo)

War time

1942: Berkeley plays an important role in the World War II effort. During the war, male enrollment drops more than 50 percent.

model of a log-periodic antenna with broadside arrays of dipoles

An emerging world class research institution

1945: The breakneck pace of research and innovation during World War II sets a new standard. Industry and government partnerships prove mutually beneficial for the translation of academic research into technologies available to the public.

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Berkeley completes $57 million worth of government-sponsored World War II research. Its partnership with the federal government sets the stage for Berkeley becoming a major research university. (College of Engineering photo)

Cory Hall is built

1950:  Berkeley’s first building to be built in the Modernist style is designed to house the growing electrical engineering department. 

Using an electron microscope

Post-war boom

1950: The Department of Materials Science and Engineering takes shape. 

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The merger of the College of Mining with the College of Engineering in 1942 makes resources available to pursue emerging materials science. Originally, Walter S. Meeks was the first department chair of the Department of Mining and Metallurgy. Beyond the existing fields of mining, metallurgy and petroleum engineering, new disciplines are added to the curriculum that reflect California’s changing economy and industry: physical metallurgy (1941), ceramic engineering (1948) and geological engineering (1956). The name is changed to the Department of Mineral Technology in 1948 to more accurately describe the curricular options. (Dennis Galloway/MSE photo)

Steamship smokestack design, showing dispersion of smoke over deck

Research snapshot

1955: Efficiency in naval architecture research (College of Engineering photo)

Optimizing industry

1956:  The growing industrial demand for optimization and management strategies in the booming economic growth of the 1950s leads to the development of the Industrial Engineering Department, which eventually becomes the Department of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research.

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Started as a division within the mechanical engineering department, industrial engineering sees rapid growth after World War II as the supply chain and logistics lessons learned during the war are translated into industrial contexts. Professor Paul DeGarmo, known by his students as Mr. E120 for his enthusiastic teaching of the intro engineering economics class, is largely credited with pushing for development of the department.

Experimental foot-ankle brace

Pioneering prosthetic researcher

1958: During the late 1950s, Berkeley engineers begin biomechanical and prosthetic research. Advances in devices and technology translate into improving the quality of life for end users.

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Chuck Radcliffe receives his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Berkeley. He becomes a faculty member and principal investigator in the Prosthetics Research Group of the Biomechanics Laboratory for the next 35 years. His major projects are the study of human locomotion and improved prosthetic limb design. He makes pioneering contributions to the quadrilateral socket, patellar-tendon-bearing (PTB) prosthesis, solid ankle cushion heel (SACH) foot and the four-bar prosthetic knee. He is credited with providing the fundamental principles of the biomechanics of prosthetic alignment and socket force transfer throughout the amputee gait cycle. He publishes numerous papers on mechanism design, especially as applied to prosthetic devices, and is often lauded as the father of prosthetic biomechanics. (College of Engineering photo)

Nuclear Engineering is born

1959: The Department of Nuclear Engineering is founded on the Berkeley campus.

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Thomas H. Pigford is the first chair of the department. He calls for a research reactor to be built in the basement of Etcheverry Hall so that students and faculty can run tests and experiments. The department develops a leading reputation in nuclear energy development, radiation detection and management, and medical imaging.

Graduate student (and future dean) David A. Hodges working in the microelectronics lab

Research snapshot

1960s: Early research in microelectronics sets the stage for the future growth of the computer and electronic technology industries that become part of California’s economy and identity.

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The microelectronics industry that is now vital to California’s economy got its start on the Berkeley and Stanford campuses. Working at the controls in this early Berkeley microelectronics lab (circa 1960) is graduate student David A. Hodges, who later becomes a dean. Labs like this were precursors to the university’s $4 million microfabrication facility, which, when it opens in 1985, becomes the first of its kind on a university campus. (College of Engineering photo)

Time magazine cover from Oct. 17, 1960, featuring UC President Clark Kerr

Master Plan for Higher Education

1960: Access to Berkeley for all talented students is offered through the creation of the California Master Plan for Higher Education. Berkeley continues to foster an open and globally engaged intellectual and cultural environment.

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The state legislature approves the California Master Plan for Higher Education. Its chief architect is UC President Clark Kerr, an industrial-relations expert who served as Berkeley’s first chancellor from 1952 to 1958. Clark’s education blueprint promises access to college for California students from all walks of life, regardless of financial means; the plan continues to guide the state’s public higher education and has served as a model nationwide. (Photo: Clark Kerr on the cover of Time, Oct. 17, 1960 issue)

GFI invented

1961: Charles Dalziel, a professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, invents a ground-fault interrupter, a device now found in virtually every home and building to protect people from electrical shocks caused by defects in appliances or grounding systems.

Free Speech Movement protesters on Sproul Plaza

Free Speech

1964: Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement attracts national attention. (UC Berkeley photo)

Etcheverry Hall opens

1966: Etcheverry Hall opens, housing the departments of mechanical engineering, nuclear engineering and industrial engineering and operations research.

Douglas Englebart and a screenshot during his demo

Douglas Englebart gives "the mother of all demos"

1968: Douglas Englebart, who earned two graduate degrees in electrical engineering at UC Berkeley, outlined the future of the information age in a 90-minute public multimedia demonstration.

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After serving as a radar technician in World War II, followed by a brief stint at Ames Research Center, Englebart came to Berkeley Engineering. He earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering in 1953 and, two years later, a Ph.D., also in EE. In 1964, Englebart developed an early prototype of a computer mouse using a block of pine. In 1968, in a now famous presentation called “the mother of all demos,” Englebart outlined the future of the information age and showed the audience his ideas about easily accessible graphic computer interfaces (making use of his mouse), networking and collaborative concepts such as email and shared documents.

Watch Englebart outline his vision for the future of computing while he gives his famous demonstration.

UNIX designer Ken Thompson (sitting) and Dennis Ritchie working at a PDP-11 computer


1969: UNIX, a computer operating system used worldwide and foundational to the modern Internet, was created by two friends who wanted to play a computer game.

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Berkeley electrical engineering graduate student Kenneth Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, a scientist at Bell Laboratories, want to play the computer game “Space Travel” on a dusty old mainframe computer. To do it, the two write a new operating system for the machines. The end result is UNIX, still the industry standard operating system, in various flavors, for workstation and networked computing, and a key component in the Internet’s infrastructure.

(Peter Hamer photo, via Wikimedia Commons)

The startup of startups

1971: The world’s first biotechnology company is founded by Donald Glaser, a Berkeley professor and 1960 Nobel Prize winner in physics. The company, Cetus, performs DNA research and pharmaceutical R&D.

Integrated circuits

1972: A team led by EECS professor Donald Pederson develops the Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis (SPICE) — a tool that, along with its derivatives, has been used in the design of almost every integrated circuit since its invention.

Archways on Cory (EE) and Soda (CS) halls

EE becomes EECS

1973: The electrical engineering department grew to encompass computer science in 1973, officially becoming the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences (EECS).

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During the early 1960s, computer scientists from Berkeley’s programs were advancing quickly to assume leadership roles in the budding computer systems and information technology-related fields. In 1968, a group of electrical engineering faculty transferred to the College of Letters & Science to create a stand-alone department of computer science. In order to amplify collaboration and research opportunities, the electrical engineering department grew to encompass computer science in 1973, officially becoming the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences (EECS)

Bill Joy

Open source movement

1977: Graduate student Bill Joy develops Berkeley UNIX and the Berkeley Software Distribution System.

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EECS graduate student Bill Joy releases Berkeley UNIX using the name Berkeley Software Distribution. The software is available to anyone who wants it and marks the beginning of the open source movement.

(Photo courtesy Sun Microsystems)

Women at computer terminal

College snapshot

1978: Women in Engineering conference (College of Engineering photo)

Bechtel Engineering Center

Bechtel Engineering Center opens

1980: Construction is completed on the Bechtel Engineering Center, which is located in the heart of the engineering section of campus. 

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The building houses the Kresge Library, Sibley Auditorium and the Garbarini Lounge. Today the building is also the headquarters for Engineering Student Services and the Center for Access to Engineering Excellence. The Bechtel Engineering Center is named for benefactor Stephen D. Bechtel. He attended Berkeley Engineering for one year following his service in World War I and before going to work for — and eventually running — Bechtel Corporation, which was started by his father and has since grown into one of the largest construction and civil engineering firms in the country.

Cheaper, faster and simpler CPUs

1981: EECS professor David Patterson develops the “reduced instruction set computer.”

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Computer scientist David Patterson directs a project that produces a simpler, cheaper, faster approach to the design of computer central processing units (CPUs). This “reduced instruction set computer” (RISC) makes CPUs more efficient.

Richard Karp

1985: Karp, a professor of mathematics, computer science and operations research, wins the Turing Award for his work on the theory of algorithms.

Nuclear free Berkeley

1986: Berkeley goes nuclear free, forcing the closure of the research reactor in Etcheverry Hall. The city of Berkeley passes a nuclear free zone ordinance, and the nuclear engineering department dismantles its research reactor.


1988: Along with his graduate students, Richard Muller, professor of EECS, produces the first electrically powered, microscopic motor, no larger than the width of a human hair. This micro-machine helps spawn the field of micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS).

William Kahan

1989: Kahan, a professor of mathematics and EECS, receives a Turing Award for his work on floating point computation.

Chancellor Chang Lin Tien teaching a class

Engineer and chancellor

1990: Chang-Lin Tien, a longtime member of the mechanical engineering faculty, becomes chancellor of Berkeley. (UC Berkeley photo)

Soda Hall

1994: The construction of Soda Hall, which houses computer science research, is complete.

Birth of Berkeley bioengineering

1998: Professor Tom Budinger is the founding chair for Berkeley’s brand-new Department of Bioengineering.

Claire Tomlin, MacArthur Fellowship

1998: EECS professor Claire Tomlin is awarded a MacArthur Fellowship to explore her work in unmanned aerial vehicles and air traffic control.

Ruzena Bajcsy

2002: Bajcsy, an EECS professor and first director of CITRIS, is named in Discover magazine’s 50 Most Important Women in Science for her pioneering work in robotics.

Blum Center for Developing Economies

2006: The Blum Center, affiliated with Berkeley Engineering,  focuses on studying developing economies and designing sustainable technologies as a strategy to alleviate poverty.

Stanley Hall

2007: The new Stanley Hall opens.

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The building, which houses the bioengineering department and the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), serves as a hub for interdisciplinary research in math, chemistry, physics and biology, as well as engineering. (College of Engineering video)


2008: Bioengineering professor Dan Fletcher and his students develop the CellScope, a tool capable of turning a smart phone into a diagnostic tool for tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases.

Sutardja Dai Hall

2009: Sutardja Dai Hall opens and becomes the home for the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society.

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Sutardja Dai Hall becomes the new home of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute @ CITRIS Berkeley. CITRIS combines the skills and talents of more than 300 faculty researchers and thousands of students from four UC campuses with industrial partners from more than 60 corporations.

Maneesh Agrawala

2009: Agrawala, an EECS professor, is awarded a MacArthur Fellowship for his work on creating better visual interfaces to aid the comprehension of large amounts of data.

Dawn Song

2010: Song, an EECS professor, is awarded a MacArthur Fellowship for her work on computer security.

Fung Institute

2010: The Coleman Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership enrolls its first master of engineering students. The Fung Institute is founded to train engineering students in leadership and management while they explore technical concentrations.

The Austin Whitney project

2011: Austin Whitney and the Berkeley Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory make history at Berkeley’s commencement ceremony.

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Austin Whitney and the Berkeley Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory, led by mechanical engineer Homayoon Kazerooni, garner national attention after Whitney walks during his Berkeley commencement ceremony using a bionic exoskeleton. Whitney, who is unable to use his legs, worked with a team of Berkeley engineers to get the exoskeleton prototype operational. (Berkeley Robotics video)

The rebuilt California Memorial Stadium

California Memorial Stadium retrofits

2012: A team of Berkeley Engineering faculty, working as part of the campus seismic review committee, advised the retrofitting of Memorial Stadium, which sits on the Hayward Fault line. 

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The project took years of planning and cost more than $445 million for the stadium upgrades and an additional $153 million to build and integrate a new student-athlete center in the old stadium’s footprint. Today, the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, as well as other academic programs, are located in the Memorial Stadium complex. California Memorial Stadium was designed by John Galen Howard to resemble the Roman Coliseum. The original structure was completed in 1923. The stadium sits atop the Hayward Fault, which is still seismically active. Over the years, the stadium experienced geological drift as the earth at the edge of the fault line moved position. The redesigned stadium — during construction much of the interior section of the playing field and cheering section was removed and rebuilt — was put together in four modular parts. The upgrades include gigantic shock absorbers and massive concrete seismic blocks, which allow for the stadium to partially float over the fault, giving some measure of safety in the event of major seismic activity on game day. The updated Memorial Stadium also includes better access, updated technology and space for academic programs, as well as a new visitor center, fitness center and student-athlete facilities.

Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation

2013: Paul Jacobs, EECS alumnus and executive chairman of Qualcomm Inc., takes the stage of the Clinton Global Initiative in June to announce he is donating $20 million to the university to build the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation.

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A new building, Jacobs Hall, will house the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation. The new institute will provide space and faculty and staff resources to better incorporate design thinking into the engineering curriculum. In studios and workspaces, students will learn about and build devices and systems with rapid prototyping and manufacturing technologies. New academic programs, such as a minor in design, will also be part of the institute’s evolution.

Translational medicine

2014: Berkeley’s first master of translational medicine is awarded at the May 2014 College of Engineering commencement ceremony.

Girls in Engineering

2014: Girls in Engineering launches its first summer program for middle school girls. The program is designed to inspire future engineering leaders by exposing participants to hands-on, team-based projects while emphasizing leadership and engineering in a societal context.

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Girls in Engineering is envisioned as one part of the solution to closing the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Taught by female faculty, staff and students, the program promotes leadership skills and inspires confidence in the participants to pursue STEM fields. (Video by Roxanne Makasdjian and Phil Ebiner)

Jacobs Hall opens

2015: Jacobs Hall opens as the headquarters of the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation. The 24,000-square-foot building was constructed at a cost of $25 million, which was funded entirely by philanthropy.

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The courses offered at Jacobs Hall immerse students in hands-on, human-centered design. Classes in digital design, prototyping, fabrication and manufacturing are offered in various studios and maker spaces. (Video by Matt Beardsley)

Engineering and Business program launches

2016: The Management, Entrepreneurship, & Technology Program at the College of Engineering and the Haas School of Business is a fully integrated, simultaneous degree program.

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In four years, M.E.T. students can earn a B.S. degree in business from Berkeley-Haas and a B.S. degree in either electrical engineering & computer sciences (EECS) or industrial engineering & operations research (IEOR) from Berkeley Engineering while gaining industry experience and practice in entrepreneurship.

BRETT robot tying a knot

Center for Human-Compatible Artificial Intelligence announced

2016: A new center focusing on AI and human interactions opens.

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Led by EECS professor and artificial intelligence (AI) expert Stuart Russell, a new center opens with a focus on making sure that future AI systems — especially the more complex systems that might control critical infrastructure, or provide people-oriented services — act in a manner that reflects positive human values. EECS professors Pieter Abbeel and Anca Dragan are also co-principal investigators of the new center, which is a collaborative effort across multiple universities.