Electrical engineer and academic

Born: April 22, 1930;

Died: September 23, 2015

Professor Jeff Collins, who has died aged 85, was a pioneering electrical engineer and influential academic and researcher at the University of Edinburgh and a former lecturer at the University of Glasgow. He was also the founding director of the Automation and Robotics Research Institute in the United States and led the research team that worked on the receivers for the UK's Skynet military communication system.

He was recruited to the University of Edinburgh from Stanford University and Rockwell International in the 1970s and brought expertise in the emerging field of surface acoustic wave (SAW) devices, securing significant financial support for the university. In this era, before digital signal processing, such analogue devices offered a unique way to implement complex receiver designs. Professor Collins' new research team used these devices to deliver a receiver for Skynet, which synchronised 100 times faster than the existing design.

Much of this research was based on identifying or acquiring signals, and Professor Collins wrote several papers in the early 1980s on electronic support measures. Unfortunately, one of these was timed for publication when the Falklands war broke out and, although the research was not classified, he did experience major difficulties in securing permission to publish it. Eventually, he obtained clearance to publish from a Ministry of Defence specialist, with the grudging comment: "I only wish the Russians wrote such clear technical expositions."

The ultimate success of Professor Collins' early vision to establish signal processing at the University of Edinburgh is still in evidence today. A 140-person joint research institute in signal and image processing between the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University remains the largest such research activity in the UK.

Jeffrey Hamilton Collins was born in Luton on April 22, 1930 and was educated at the Royal Grammar School in Guildford. He received a BSc in physics, an MSc in mathematics and a DSc from the University of London. He started his technical career in the 1940s as a junior technician in the department of physics at Guy's Hospital Medical School. From 1951-56 he gained experience in microwave tubes and ferrite parametric amplifiers during employment at GEC in Wembley and at Ferranti in Edinburgh. In 1957-66 he was a lecturer at the University of Glasgow, teaching and researching in microwave devices, before taking up an appointment as a research engineer at the Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory at Stanford University. Here he was introduced to surface acoustic waves, magnetic garnet delay lines and pulse compression applications.

Upon joining the University of Edinburgh in 1970, he served as technical director of Microwave and Electronic Systems, where he expanded their commercial capabilities into new radar receiver designs. This success led to the company merging with Racal Electronics in 1979 and a Queen's Award for Technological Achievement.

Professor Collins was extremely influential within the university. He helped grow the electronics academic staff from 10 to 25, re-structured student teaching programmes and set the path towards top category research status in the 1998 and 2001 national assessments. He chaired the university's Wolfson Microelectronics Institute from 1977-84, laying the foundations for Wolfson Microelectronics to become a highly successful spin-out company with 400 staff. He also secured funding to establish the Edinburgh Microfabrication Facility for semiconductor device manufacture and won funding from the Alrick Trust to construct a new building to house his growing department.

In 1981 Professor Collins was one of the founding directors who helped to raise £10million to set up Advent Technology Venture Capital Group to invest in established companies with high-tech products that had clear market potential. They invested £500,000 in Filtronics, a microwave technology company in Shipley, Yorkshire. Subsequently, a Filtronics filter device played a crucial part in safeguarding UK ships during the Falklands War. Filtronics became a publicly quoted company and produced the biggest reward of any investment to date for Advent.

In 1987, Professor Collins' love of America and a new challenge precipitated a move to take up a position as the founding director of the Automation and Robotics Research Institute at the University of Texas at Arlington. This was a very demanding period, during which he developed a new institute and secured the necessary funding from the Texas legislature, despite no prior expertise in robotics or automation. It demonstrated his wide-ranging technical and management skills.

In 1991 the Professor returned to Scotland, where he chaired the University of Edinburgh's Parallel Computing Centre (EPCC). The centre attracted the UK National Supercomputing Service in 1994, a service EPCC still runs today using the recently acquired ARCHER and HECTOR supercomputers. At this time Professor Collins encouraged and assisted Stephen Salter and Win Rampen to form the Edinburgh digital hydraulics spin-out company Artemis Intelligent Power, and served as a director until the company was sold to Mitsubishi in 2010.

Professor Collins was awarded an honorary DEng by Edinburgh Napier University in 1997.

He is survived by his wife, Sally, two sons, Adrian and Kevin, and three grandchildren, Amy, Hannah and Cameron.