Obituary: Professor Sir Alistair MacFarlane

18 April 2022

Professor Sir Alistair MacFarlane CBE FRS FREng FRSE 1931-2021

We note with regret the death of Professor Sir Alistair MacFarlane who died on 2 November 2021, aged 90. Alistair was best-known for his development of frequency-domain methods for the analysis and design of multivariable feedback systems. He also had a deep interest in the modelling of dynamical systems, and later in life developed an interest in the philosophy of information, complexity and knowledge, how these were related, and their implications for the future of machines.

Alistair was born on the 9th of May 1931 in the Prestonfield district of Edinburgh.

The release of information at the end of World War 2 in newspaper articles, cinema newsreels and government HMSO publications about wartime technical developments fired Alistair’s imagination and confirmed his intention to be an engineer. He became fascinated by radar, and decided that is what he wanted to be involved in. He decided to study electrical engineering at Glasgow University on a sandwich degree course. The industrial experience was with Metropolitan Vickers in Manchester, where he first encountered feedback control systems.

He joined the staff of the Electrical Engineering Department of Queen Mary College at the University of London in 1959, and spent six very fruitful years there. His motivation in joining a university department was to be able to do research. He registered as a part-time doctoral student. He had no clear idea of what area to work in, other than a deep interest in feedback theory and its applications. During this time he developed the MacFarlane-Potter algorithm for solving the algebraic Riccati equation that occurs in the solution of the Linear Quadratic Regulator problem.

He went to the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) in 1966, initially as a Reader. The Science Research Council created 3 'Centres of Excellence' in Control Engineering and UMIST was one of the three, the other two being Imperial College and Cambridge. Alistair was appointed a Professor in the newly-created Control Systems Centre. The other Professor, and Head of the Centre, was Howard Rosenbrock.

He was elected in 1974 to a Chair of Engineering at Cambridge, and became Head of the newly-formed Control and Management Systems Division. At both UMIST and Cambridge, Alistair’s research was focussed on extending the frequency-domain techniques for control system design, which had been developed since the 1930’s, to multivariable systems. The best-known method associated with his name was the Characteristic Locus technique, but he was also early to recognize the importance of frequency-dependent singular values (which he called ‘principal gains’) for multivariable systems, to develop frequency-domain interpretations of LQR results, including those for discrete-time systems, and the importance of computer-aided methods – particularly graphical ones. He developed a worldwide reputation for this work, and had a large number of research students, many of whom became well-known Professors of Control Engineering. While at Cambridge, Alistair became a Fellow and Vice-Master of Selwyn College.

After nearly fourteen years in the Department of Engineering at Cambridge, he felt that he had answered the basic questions about how classical frequency-response methods could be generalised. In 1989, he took the post of Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. After thirty-five years of working on feedback systems, it was time to move on to other things – and back to the city of his birth.

In early 1996 Alistair retired to pursue scholarship and research with a Leverhulme Foundation Senior Research Fellowship. His research then took a philosophical bent, with an increasing interest in notions of information, complexity and knowledge, and how these related to the future of machines. He was invited to edit a Theme Issue on Information, Knowledge and Technology of the Philosophical Proceedings of the Royal Society.

At the same time he was appointed Academic Adviser to the proposed University of the Highlands and Islands, and in 2000 was appointed its Chief Executive, later to be elected its first Rector.

In 2011 Alistair was knighted ‘for services to higher education’. He had earlier been awarded the CBE for his services to the Science and Engineering Research Council (predecessor of the EPSRC), especially to its Computing Committee and as a member of its Council. During his career he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society, of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Alistair was married to Nora, and after her death to Anwen. He is survived by his son (with Nora) Robert, who is a senior Civil Servant in the Cabinet Office.

Professor Jan Maciejowski and Jaq Saggers, University of Cambridge

PhD Opportunity at University of Plymouth

17 April 2022

Applications are being invited for a PhD scholarship at the University of Plymouth related to real-time hybrid testing for physical modelling of new high capacity floating offshore wind turbines.

Details can be found here and here.

Closing date for applications is 12 noon on 4th May 2022.

EPSRC - Circular Economy Workshops - March 2022

30 January 2022

EPSRC will be running two virtual community engagement workshops on 24th and 29th March 2022 with the aim of exploring the role of engineering and physical sciences (EPS) research in achieving a transition to a circular economy.

The workshops will consist of talks from community leaders and EPSRC, as well as facilitated discussion sessions around research challenges and opportunities for transitioning to a circular economy, ways of embedding circularity in EPS research, and current opportunities provided by EPSRC/UKRI for funding circular economy research. We anticipate this event will be of interest to researchers (both academic and industrial) working in areas directly supporting the transition to a circular economy as well as those who have an interest in considering circularity in their own research in other areas. A background in circular economy research is not a pre-requisite and applications are actively encouraged from those new to the area or only just beginning to consider how to embed circularity in their research. Although this is primarily an EPSRC event this is an inherently interdisciplinary area of research. Applications from those not traditionally in EPSRC remit but currently or hoping to collaborate with those who are to deliver a circular future and/or embed circularity in EPS research and innovation are also encouraged.

For more information and to submit an expression of interest, please see our website: Circular Economy community engagement workshops, March 2022 - EPSRC website (

If you have any questions please get in touch with us at

IET Control and Automation - Scalable and data-driven approaches to convex programming Webinar

30 January 2022

31st March at 2pm

Mathematical optimisation plays a crucial role in providing efficient solutions to modern engineering applications. Despite enormous advances in the past decades, some of these applications involve solving optimisation problems that may not be computationally tractable or that call for new theoretical advancements and obtaining robust and scalable methods and developing new analytic tools to optimisation problems is of paramount importance. In this talk, we will address two of the main challenges when solving optimisation programs, namely, scalability and the presence of uncertainty. Speaker - Licio Romao received the B.S. degree from the Federal University of Campina Grande (UFCG), Brazil, in 2014, M.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Campinas (UNICAMP), Brazil, in 2017, and PhD degree in Engineering Science from the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, in 2021. He is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Computer Science Department, University of Oxford. He has visited the University of Rome Tor Vergata, Italy, in 2012, the University of California San Diego, CA, USA, in 2015, and the University of Bologna, Italy, in 2019.

IET Control and Automation - Crash safety of electric vehicles Webinar

30 January 2022

24th Feb at 12PM

An increasing number of EVs are now flooding into our daily life, and this draws much attention from not only the professionals working in the relevant fields but also the ordinary consumers. At present, one of the most highlighted concerns is the EV safety problem. Is it possible to attain a satisfying EV safety level which is no worse than the traditional ICE cars? Speaker - Chao Gong is a PhD student at the Department of Electronic Engineering, University of York. His research interest is safety of high-voltage powertrain based electric vehicles.

Funding opportunity: New Horizons – EPSRC

23 November 2021

Following the first phase of the pilot New Horizons scheme in 2020, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is now launching the second phase.

New Horizons is a funding opportunity for research ideas that are new, speculative and high risk with potential for high reward. The ideas should be within the remit of EPSRC’s Engineering and ICT themes. Visit the UKRI website for more information and contact details.

Applications for this phase of the pilot scheme will be assessed at outline and full proposal panel meetings, where streamlined assessment criteria will be used.

To support the delivery of this funding opportunity, EPSRC are planning panel membership now ahead of the initial outline panels in March 2022. For those not applying to this scheme, but interested in being a panel member, a survey is now open for expression of interest.

Deadline extension: Control 2022

8 October 2021

The deadline for the call for papers for the 13th UKACC International Conference on Control to be held on 20-22 April 2022 at The University of Plymouth has been extended to 30 November 2022.

More information can be found on the Control 2022 website. Papers can be submitted via Paper Plaza.

Registration for IFAC 2021 lecture now open

8 October 2021

The International Federation of Automatic Control invites you on Tuesday, 30 November 2021 at 11.00 am (CET) to the lecture: “High-performance nonlinear control method for servo systems in automation and robotics: theory to practice” by Professor Dongil “Dan” Cho, Ph.D. IFAC President-Elect.

The lecture will take place via Zoom. Registration and participation is free.

Register now

Call for papers for Control 2022

22 September 2021

The deadline of 30 September 2021 is fast approaching for full paper and abstract submissions for Control 2022.

More information can be found on the Control 2022 website. Papers can be submitted via Paper Plaza.

August 2021 IFAC newsletter

2 August 2021

The August 2021 IFAC newsletter can be downloaded from the IFAC website.

This issue includes:

  • IFAC activity fund update

  • EAAI (Engineering Applications of Artificial Intelligence) webinar

  • IFAC president’s column

  • IFAC Journal of Systems and Control: Update from the EiC reports from IFAC conferences (CTS/FR, INCOM/HU)

  • IFAC 2023 update

  • 2020-2023 IFAC fellows and major awards

  • IFAC council and related meetings 2021

  • Forthcoming IFAC events (New name “conferences”)

Read the newsletter

Funding opportunity: Synthetic Biology and Biological Systems

18 July 2021

Over the past year, there has been a UKRI wide initiative to explore ways of furthering Engineering Biology research. As a result of this work, the first opportunity in this area for funding is now live.

Developing Engineering Biology Breakthrough Ideas will fund adventurous, short term research in the Engineering Biology space, with collaborative projects linking disciplines not traditionally associated with the area welcome.

Details of the scheme, and how to apply can be found on the UKRI website.

For more information on the scheme, contact

To clarify, while the application process is administered through BBSRC, the opportunity is open to researchers in areas within the EPSRC, BBSRC, MRC and NERC remit.

New chair of UKACC

6 July 2021

UKACC welcomes its new chair, Professor Visakan Kadirkamanathan, who takes over from the outgoing chair Professor Roger Dixon.

Visakan is from the Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering at the University of Sheffield and is also the Director of the Rolls-Royce supported University Technology Centre in Control, Monitoring and Systems Engineering.

Cash prize for PhD excellence!

20 June 2021

The IET Control and Automation Doctoral Dissertation Prize 2021 is now open and taking applications.

Do you know a student who deserves to win this year? The prize money on offer is £500.

The prize recognises a student for their research excellence in the field of Control and Automation at a UK university, between 1 October 2019 and 30 September 2021.

Nominations are now open.

Vacancy: Senior Research Associate at Lancaster University

20 June 2021

A vacancy has arisen at Lancaster University for a Senior Research Associate in Condition Monitoring and Control.

The successful candidate will join a team working on the EPSRC funded (£1.5 million) Autonomous Inspection for Responsive and Sustainable Nuclear Fuel Manufacture (AIRS-NFM) project.

The project aims to determine whether the manufacture of nuclear fuel can be rendered responsive, using gamma-ray spectrometry, responsive high-resolution imaging and digital twinning, to reduce waste, disruption, energy consumption and to increase the efficiency, resilience and sustainability of nuclear fuel production.

The position is focussed on data-driven, adaptive condition monitoring and control using machine learning.

Find out more about the vacancy

June 2021 IFAC newsletter

20 June 2021

The June 2021 IFAC newsletter can be downloaded from the IFAC website.

Content in this issue:

  • Who’s who in IFAC: TB vice-chairs A Astolfi (UK) and K Janschek (DE) (including VC reports)

  • IFAC president’s column

  • Best practices for industry involvement in IFAC events now released

  • From the IFAC blog: The Prince and I(FAC)

  • Transitions: Tibor Vamos

  • Education survey

  • Forthcoming IFAC technical events

IFAC Industry Connect webinar series

6 June 2021

The IFAC Industry Committee has announced a series of Industry Connect webinars.

The first in the series, “The impact of control research on industrial innovation: What would it take to make it happen?” is a 60-minute panel discussion. It will take a close look at a framework to close the gap between fundamental control research and practice towards catalysing technology innovation.

The discussion will address drivers for innovation, limitations encountered in practice, and potential research directions based on requirements collected from different industry sectors.

The panelists will be Hans Aalto, Finn Ankersen, Silvia Mastellone, Iven Mareels, and Alex van Delft, moderated by Moncef Chioua.

The event will take plave on 15 June 2021, 1.00 pm BST (2.00 pm CEST, 8.00 EDT). The webinar is free and open to all. Registration is required.

View the flyer

Control 2022

6 June 2021

The 13th UKACC International Conference on Control will be held on 20 – 22 April 2022, at the University of Plymouth.

Visit our events page for more information.

PhD showcase winners 2019

3 December 2019

Congratulations to Alison Ponche and Raheeg Alamin for the best and runner up poster respectively. Congratulations to Huaya Duan and Suleiman Kurawa for the best and runner up presentation, respectively, at the UKACC PhD showcase which took place at Advances in Process Automation and Control 2019 in Manchester.

Presenters and judging panel – 18 November 2019