Geology and related Earth Sciences have been studied at Manchester since 1851 when W.C. Williamson was appointed as Professor of Natural History (Geology, Zoology and Botany). Williamson was one of the great Victorian scientists, a friend of Darwin, Huxley, Lyell and others of that generation. Since then, many of the great names of British geology have studied or researched at Manchester (Professors at Manchester have included Sir W. Boyd Dawkins, Sir T.H. Holland, O.T. Jones, W.J. Pugh, W.A. Deer, E.A. Vincent, W.S. Fyfe, W.S. Mackenzie and J. Zussman). In the 1950's, the Department was the first in Britain to set up laboratories for high temperature and pressure studies of the crystallisation of minerals and rocks. Further expansion took place in the late 1980's with new laboratories for isotope geochemistry, rock deformation studies, and mineral spectroscopy being added, along with substantial growth in academic and support staff numbers. More recently, the school has grown in 2004 with the addition of a group of atmospheric science researchers, and then in 2016 when sixteen academics in areas related to the life sciences joined the school.
Today, the school is the largest teaching and research center in the UK for Earth and Environmental Science, with over 100 academic staff in fields including Geoscience, Environmental Science, Atmospheric Physics, Ecology and Evolution, and Planetary Science.Research in the Department is funded by the major research councils (NERC, EPSRC, STFC, BBSRC), the Royal Society, and the petroleum, mineral and nuclear industries. The Department is housed in the Williamson Building on Oxford Road, at the centre of the campus, whose excellent facilities include lecture theatres, a library/reading room, computer suites and laboratories for teaching and research. The latter include newly refurbished laboratories for isotope geochemistry, and for petroleum geoscience and (as part of the interdisciplinary Williamson Research Centre) new laboratories for high P/T work, geomicrobiology, geochemical kinetics, mineral and surface analysis, solution analysis and rock and mineral sample preparation.