Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston is a long established research-led University in the heart of the city centre and it’s known for its world-class teaching quality and strong links to industry, government and commerce.

Here are 10 things you may not know about Aston University:


Over the years, Aston has played host to some of the biggest bands and music artists on the planet. Among the many world-famous acts to have thrilled audiences at the University are Brummie boys Black Sabbath, Status Quo, Deep Purple, psychedelic pioneers Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, post-punkers The Cure, Blur, U2, The Police and The Rolling Stones. The University also used to organise its own annual music festival, ‘Astonbury’, on campus.


Temodal, a drug used all over the world to treat brain cancer, was discovered at Aston University in the late 1970s. Professor Malcolm Stevens led a team of scientists in developing, synthesising and trialing the drug, which has resulted in a significant increase in survival rates with minimal side effects for patients with brain tumours. By 2008, worldwide sales of the drug had reached a staggering $1bn a year.


After an episode of Japanese children’s show Pokemon caused 685 people to be admitted to hospital with suspected epileptic seizures, Aston neurologist Professor Graham Harding was flown to Japan to help set new guidelines for flashing images on TV. The rules he created were then adopted by British TV – and is the reason why all programmes have to give a warning about flashing images if they contain them.

Diverse Student Body

Located in the heart of Birmingham, one of the UK’s most vibrant, diverse and exciting cities, it is fitting that Aston University’s student population reflects that diversity. The University is home to 13,000 students from over 130 different nations who are all part of a tight-knit campus community. All students are encouraged to learn new languages during their time at Aston too, with free courses in Arabic, French, German, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese and Spanish offered.


Student Formula Car

Every year, Aston students design, build and race their own sports in an international Formula Student competition. The car, typically a single-seater capable of travelling from 0 – 60mph in under four seconds, is raced against student teams from universities across Europe on some of the continent’s most famous race tracks – including Silverstone in the UK.

Formula student carKestrels

For more than 30 years, Aston has been home to several generations of a family of kestrels. The taloned birds of prey, who can see and catch a beetle from 50m, nest high in the University’s main building every Spring. The kestrels have their own dedicated Twitter page and you can see them snuggling in their nest via a webcam on Aston’s website.

Centre for Forensic Linguistics

Aston academics based at the University’s Centre for Forensic Linguistics have helped to crack several murder cases with their language skills. By analysing suspicious texts, emails and letters, experts like Professor Tim Grant have been able to identify suspects and spot imposters posing as other people. They are frequently called on to testify in court with their evidence.

A curious feature of Aston’s Main Building that many still remember was its paternoster lifts, and – as this clip from ATV’s 1966 film about Aston shows – they were not for the faint-hearted (or the slow-footed).

A paternoster is a type of passenger lift, popular in continental Europe during the first half of the 20th century. It consists of a chain of open compartments that move in a loop inside the building without stopping, and passengers step off at the desired floor, trying, of course, not to trip over. Tripping could be fatal – in 2012 an 81-year-old man was killed when he fell into the shaft of a paternoster lift in Holland.

Record Breaking Taxi Ride

Three Aston graduates set the world record for the longest ever journey by taxi – driving 43,000 miles around the world in 2012 and raising £20,000 for the British Red Cross in the process. The epic trip saw Paul Archer, Johno Elison and Leigh Purnell take their black cab, named ‘Hannah’, across fifty countries and five continents, using 8,000 litres of diesel in a journey that would have racked up a whopping £80,000 fare.

Ape Skeleton

Perhaps the most curious tradition at Aston University involves the passing of the skeleton of a small Bonobo ape from one Head of Biology to the next. The ape has been at Aston for over 50 years and was originally used as an educational tool in biology classes and laboratories. As the study of the discipline began to focus more on the cellular and the molecular, the ape became a treasured curio. It now sits in the office of Professor Anthony Hilton, the University’s current Head of Biology.