Mike Bird, 1934-2011
1 September 2011
Mike Bird (Brian Michael Bird), Emeritus Professor of Electrical Engineering, a pioneer of power electronics and a dedicated worker for the engineering profession, died suddenly on 15 July 2011. Duncan Grant offers an appreciation.
Mike graduated in Electrical Engineering at Bristol and then worked for three years with Metro Vickers in Manchester, one of the most prestigious engineering companies in the country. Here he worked on computer-assisted design of large electrical machines using the early mainframe computers that Metro Vickers were also producing at the time.
Mike returned to Bristol and was appointed a research assistant in 1960, becoming a lecturer soon after. The transistor had been invented just 13 years before, but already it was becoming clear that it could be a device able to handle power as well as signals. Mike had seen the future, and added power electronics to his research interests. This was to be the dominant theme of his career. With industrial colleagues he wrote two books on power electronics which became mandatory reading for anyone starting in that area. He advised industry on every aspect of it, particularly concerning its application to transport. He advised the House of Lords committee on electric vehicles and was chosen one year by the IEE to give its annual Faraday lecture series on the future of electric transport.
One of Mike’s early responsibilities was as Chairman of the South-West Network of Universities’ Computers Committee, at a time when mainframe computers were beginning to make a big impact in research and large amounts of money had to be spent wisely. Mike’s early experience at Metro Vickers undoubtedly stood him in good stead.
Mike was Head of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering for two periods (commencing in 1975 and in 1989), during which time the Microelectronics team was created. He also encouraged the establishment of a Centre for Communications Research, which has proved highly successful. He was Dean of the Faculty of Engineering from 1985 to 1988, and was appointed a Pro Vice-Chancellor of the University in 1990, a post he held until his retirement in 1993. Subsequently he provided advice and quality assurance for a number of overseas universities and built computers for a hobby, donating them to worthy causes.
Mike was also a tireless worker for the engineering profession. He chaired the local branch of the IEE and was appointed a fellow of that Institution; he went on to be its Vice President. These and other contributions to the engineering profession were recognised when he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1984.
Mike is remembered by colleagues for his quick mind and sharp intellect, and for his many contributions to the University and the engineering profession. Mike was also a person who possessed great empathy and a great understanding of people. Inevitably his colleagues were also his friends. He will be missed.