First Briton in space officially opens University of Sheffield's world-leading teaching and research building the Diamond

University of Sheffield alumna and the first Briton to go into space, Dr Helen Sharman OBE, has today (20 July 2017) officially opened the Diamond - the University’s newest world-class teaching and research facility.

Completed in 2015, the Diamond building and its facilities represent the University of Sheffield’s largest ever investment in learning and teaching.

The Diamond caters for more than 5,000 students from the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering - with 19 specialist engineering labs - and boasts teaching facilities, library and IT services and student study spaces for use by all students at the University.

Dr Sharman, who graduated from the University of Sheffield with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry in 1984 and was the first woman to visit the Mir space station, unveiled a plaque at a private ceremony before being taken on a tour of the Diamond’s laboratories. She was shown how students can design products using CAD, fabricate them in the workshops or with 3D printers before testing them in a wind tunnel or testing machines.

She also saw the Diamond’s chemical labs, bioengineering labs, clean room, flight simulators, media editing and virtual reality suites - all of which combine to give students a world-leading learning experience.

Commenting on her visit to the Diamond, Dr Sharman said: “What really excites me about the Diamond is the interdisciplinary nature of the engineering that’s being encouraged here, because life doesn’t work in silos.

“The other thing is the openness of the labs for practical use – you get such a good feeling about how our machines behave, if you actually make things yourself. And to be able to make changes, think on the spot and have a go - it’s a hothouse for innovation.

“I think engineering students at the University of Sheffield have a truly wonderful building in which they can best create the solutions to engineering problems of the future.”

Whilst in Sheffield, Dr Sharman also received an honorary degree from the University of Sheffield in recognition of her outstanding achievements.

Professor Sir Keith Burnett, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, said: “We are delighted to welcome Dr Sharman back to the University of Sheffield today to open a building which is fittingly dedicated to the endeavour of building knowledge and discovery.

“Helen is someone who has experienced what very few can match, she has looked back at our planet from space and appreciated the power and wonder of science, engineering and human endeavour. Helen began her journey in Sheffield and even the sky was not the limit. I can think of no better person to formally open the Diamond building.”

The University has a long tradition of inviting people of distinction to open its buildings - including HM King Edward VII, HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and the poet T.S. Eliot.

Helen Sharman

Additional information

Dr Helen Sharman OBE

In May 1991, aged just 27, Dr Sharman was selected for the Anglo-Soviet Project Juno mission after responding to a radio advertisement asking for applications to be the first British astronaut.

After undertaking 18 months of training, she became the first Briton to go into space and the first woman to visit the Mir space station. During her mission she was involved in various experiments about the effects of weightlessness on physical, chemical and biological systems.

Since graduating in 1984 with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the University of Sheffield, Dr Sharman has become a leading ambassador for science and, in 1993, was honoured with an OBE for her pioneering accomplishments.

She has also overseen a range of specialist facilities and laboratories used for teaching and research, and was appointed President of the Institute of Science and Technology (IST) in October 2015. Dr Sharman has been an active advocate for technicians in higher education and works closely with the University of Sheffield’s Technical Development and Modernisation programme.

University of Sheffield

With almost 27,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2017 and was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education in 2014. In the last decade it has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.


For further information please contact:

Hannah Postles
Media Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 222 1046