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.
Today the School is one of the largest Earth Sciences teaching and research centers in the UK, with around 30 academic staff and a similar number of specialist researchers and support staff. Research in the Department is funded by most of the major research councils (NERC, EPSRC, STFC, BBSRC), by the Royal Society, and by the petroleum, mineral and nuclear industries. The Department is housed in the Williamson Building on Oxford Road, at the centre of the campus, where the excellent facilities include lecture theatres, 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.