skip to content

Department of Zoology


A Timeline of Zoology at Cambridge

2023 Professor Rebecca Kilner FRS succeeded Dr Howard Baylis as Head of Department.
2019 When Professor Paul Brakefield retires, Professor Rebecca Kilner becomes Director of the Museum of Zoology (2019 - )


The Museum of Zoology reopened, by Sir David Attenborough, on 23rd June 2018.


The Department and Museum of Zoology both celebrate their 150th Anniversary, with lectures and special events throughout the year.  The iconic finback whale skeleton is rehung in a new purpose-built entrance hall.

The Cambridge Conservation Initiative is opened by Sir David Attenborough, who abseiled down the internal green wall. 

Dr Howard Baylis becomes Head of Department.


The Arup Building is re-named The David Attenborough Building (DAB), in honour of his lifetime of work highlighting conservation issues.  In December, partners in the Cambridge Conservation Initiative begin to move into the refurbished building.  The DAB provides a home for the largest cluster of conservation organisations in the world.


The University approved the refurbishment of the Arup Building, to create a campus for the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and a major redesign and upgrade for the Museum of Zoology. 
2012 Professor Sir John Gurdon won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his work in 1962 showing that single frog nuclei transplanted into enucleated eggs could give rise to an entire animal.
2010 Professor Michael Akam succeeded Malcolm Burrows as Head of Department.  Previously he had served as Director of the Museum of Zoology (1997 – 2010).  He was succeeded as Director of the Museum by Professor Paul Brakefield (2010 - 2019).
2008 Endowment funds were secured to create the Prince Philip Professorship of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.  The first Professor to be appointed was Tim Clutton-Brock (2008 – 2013).

An endowment was secured to underpin the costs of a new Chair, the Miriam Rothschild Professorship of Conservation Biology.  The first Professor to be appointed was William Sutherland (2006 - ).

Jenny Clack is awarded a personal chair and becomes Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology, the first ever female professor in the Department. In 2009, she becomes the first female palaeontologist to be elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society.

1996 Professor Malcolm Burrows succeeded Gabriel Horn. In this same year, the Museum of Zoology's iconic whale was unveiled in its new location on the podium of the Arup Building, being on display to the general public for the first time since the old museum was demolished in 1965.
1978 Professor Sir Gabriel Horn became Head of Department until he retired in 1995.
1974 Dian Fossey completed her PhD under the supervision of Professor Robert Hinde, in the Sub-Department of Animal Behaviour.
1973 The new modern display galleries of the Museum were opened.
1970 Dr Ken Joysey became Director of the Museum of Zoology, retiring from this role in 1995.
1966 Pantin retired and was succeeded by Professor Torkel Weis-Fogh. Recognising the vital part his predecessor had played in the rebuilding of the north side of the course, Weis-Fogh decided it should be called the Carl Pantin Wing.
1965 The 1865 building was demolished and replaced by the present Arup building.  In order to build the steps to the raised area and the Babbage Lecture Theatre, and to connect the Arup Building to Zoology at higher levels, the old North Door and the carvings above it, together with the staircase and landings with inlaid floor designs, had to be demolished.  Between 1968 and 1970 the Museum was moved into this new purpose-designed accommodation.
1965 Jane Goodall obtained her PhD under the supervision of Professor Robert Hinde, in the Sub-Department of Animal Behaviour.
1960 The field station at Madingley became the Sub-Department of Animal Behaviour, with Professor Thorpe as its first Director.
1959 Gray retired and was succeeded by Dr Carl Frederick Abel Pantin, then Reader in Invertebrate Zoology. During Professor Pantin's tenure the decision was taken to re-build on the site of the Museum.

Dr W. H. Thorpe developed an area of land at Madingley as a field station for the study of animal behaviour.


David Attenborough arrived as an undergraduate student at Clare College to study zoology and geology.

1939-45 The basement of the Department was taken over for use by the Medical Research Council Blood Drying Unit - preparing and distributing 2,500 bottles of dried plasma each week.
1938 Having occupied adjacent buildings but remained separate institutions for seventy years, the Museum of Zoology was incorporated into the Department of Zoology.
1937 Stanley Gardiner was succeeded by Sir James Gray as Professor of Zoology (the reference to Comparative Anatomy being dropped).
1934 Maurice Lambert was commissioned by architect J. Murray Easton to produce a sculpture for the exterior of the new Zoological Laboratory building. This later went missing when the original Museum building was demolished, but hopes remain of one day locating it.
1933 The Department moved from its various buildings into a newly redeveloped L-shaped building with frontages on Downing Street and Corn Exchange Street. The architect was Mr. J. Murray Easton, of the firm of Stanley Hall and Easton and Robertson.  On the Downing Street side the building retains the stone wall of the old Medical School, the rest of which was pulled down. The former Humphry Museum was externally unaltered, though entirely reconstructed within, and today houses the Balfour and Newton Libraries.
1927 Sidnie M Manton, appointed as University Demonstrator in Comparative Anatomy.  The first woman appointed to an academic post in the Department.
1909-10 Special advanced classes in Comparative Physiology, Entomology and Oceanic Ecology were established and there was a need for more space dedicated to teaching and research. This was met by the assignment to Zoology of the whole first floor over the Philosophical Library, and four research places on the top floor over the Museum premises.
1909 Adam Sedgwick resigned as Professor and was succeeded by John Stanley Gardiner.
1907 On the death of Alfred Newton, the Newton collection, of ornithological importance, was bequeathed to the museum and Adam Sedgwick succeeded him as Professor.
1904 The Medical School overlooking Downing Street was opened by Their Majesties, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. This building would be redeveloped in later years to become the new home of the Department of Zoology.
1884 The University erected a large room, the Sedgwick Room, over the Department of Mineralogy, where Sedgwick could teach biology to medical students. The end part of this was cut off as an Advanced Lecture Room and Laboratory.

A Chair of Animal Morphology was created for Balfour in May, but he met his death by a fall while climbing Mont Blanc that summer. Balfour's books were donated by his sister, Mrs. Sidgwick, Principal of Newnham College, to form the nucleus of the Zoological Department Library.

Balfour's favourite pupil, Adam Sedgwick was left the task of establishing Zoology within the framework of undergraduate teaching in Cambridge. A new room to hold 30 students had been constructed on the top floor over the old Philosophical Library expressly for Balfour (the Balfour Room) and Sedgwick was the first occupant.

1875 Newton gave Balfour his private room in order that he might give practical classes; it accommodated 12 students, and much later became the advanced Laboratory of Zoology.
1866 Alfred Newton became the first Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy. He only had use of a lecture room and a private room. Arthur Balfour introduced his young brother, Francis Maitland Balfour, to Newton and ten years of research followed. The study of the development and growth of animals was added to those of natural history and anatomy as a subject to be taught. In the same year John Willis Clark was appointed the first Superintendent of the Museum of Zoology.

The Museum moved into a new building on the New Museums Site. The bulk of the existing collections were accumulated between 1865 and 1915. It was in this same year that the Museum's famous Finback Whale was washed ashore dead at Pevensey in Sussex. The following year it was bought for the Museum by public subscription.


Syndicate appointed to consider the best mode of providing for the teaching of Anatomy and Zoology within the University.  

12 June 1865 Syndicate recommends the appointment of Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy.  (Confirmed by Grace on 8 February 1866)


BAAS Cambridge meeting (Owen-Huxley debate continues: 'The great hippocampus question')

1785 - 1814 Sir Busick Harwood, Professor of Anatomy, started an osteological collection in Cambridge, which, along with several other important collections, formed the basis of the Museum of Zoology. These included the Swainson Collection of birds and the zoological collection of the Cambridge Philosophical Society; the latter included many specimens collected by Charles Darwin.
17th Century John Ray and Francis Willoughby of Trinity were forerunners of Linnaeus, especially in regard to insects, birds and fish - and Martin Lister, of St. John's, did the same for spiders and molluscs.
1592 William Harvey arrived at Caius College to conduct research on the circulation of blood and development of the chick.