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The locomotive designer, Charles Beyer became a governor of the college and was the largest single donor to the college extension fund, which raised the money to move to a new site and construct the main building now known as the John Owens building.

Manchester mill owner, Thomas Ashton, chairman of the extension movement had studied at Heidelberg University.Sir Henry Roscoe also studied at Heidelberg under Robert Bunsen and they collaborated for many years on research projects.Roscoe promoted the German style of research led teaching that became the role model for the redbrick universities.It is centrally located in the city and its buildings are integrated into the fabric of Manchester, with non-university buildings and major roads between.The campus occupies an area shaped roughly like a boot: the foot of which is aligned roughly south-west to north-east and is joined to the broader southern part of the boot by an area of overlap between former UMIST and former VUM buildings; The names are not officially recognised by the university, but are commonly used, including in parts of its website and roughly correspond to the campuses of the old UMIST and Victoria University respectively.Fallowfield Campus is the main residential campus in Fallowfield, approximately 2 miles (3.2 km) south of the main site.

There are other university buildings across the city and the wider region, such as Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire and One Central Park in Moston, a collaboration between the university and other partners which offers office space for start-up firms and venues for conferences and workshops, Following the merger, the university embarked on a £600 million programme of capital investment, to deliver eight new buildings and 15 major refurbishment projects by 2010, partly financed by a sale of unused assets.

However, in the late-20th century, formal connections between the university and UMIST diminished and in 1994 most of the remaining institutional ties were severed as new legislation allowed UMIST to become an autonomous university with powers to award its own degrees. Before the merger, Victoria University of Manchester and UMIST counted 23 Nobel Prize winners amongst their former staff and students.

Manchester has traditionally been strong in the sciences; it is where the nuclear nature of the atom was discovered by Ernest Rutherford, and the world's first stored-program computer was built at the university.

The University of Manchester traces its roots to the formation of the Mechanics' Institute (later UMIST) in 1824, and its heritage is linked to Manchester's pride in being the world's first industrial city.

The English chemist John Dalton, together with Manchester businessmen and industrialists, established the Mechanics' Institute to ensure that workers could learn the basic principles of science.

The Municipal College of Technology, forerunner of UMIST, was the Victoria University of Manchester's Faculty of Technology while continuing in parallel as a technical college offering advanced courses of study.