University Of Bristol Life Sciences
Biology has been taught at Bristol – as Botany and Zoology – since before the University was founded in 1909. Bristol has made significant contributions to many fields, from animal cognition and medicinal plants to entomology, evolutionary Game Theory and bird flight – and the BBC Natural History Unit’s proximity to the University has led to television careers for a number of graduates!
In 1876, University College, the precursor to the University, appointed Dr. Frederick Adolph Leipner as Lecturer in Botany, Zoology and, amusingly, German. Leipner had trained at the Bristol Medical School, but taught botany and natural philosophy, later combining this with teaching in Vegetable Physiology at the Medical School. He became Professor of Botany in 1884 and was a founding member of the Bristol Naturalists’ Society, becoming its President in 1893.
Bristol today is proud of its interdisciplinary strengths and, among others, offers Joint Honours Degrees in Geology and Biology, and in Psychology and Zoology. A portent of these modern links is seen in one of the University’s most notable early appointments, Conwy Lloyd Morgan, appointed as Professor of Zoology and Geology in 1884 and then – somehow fitting in service as Vice-Chancellor – becoming the first Chair in Psychology (and Ethics).
Lloyd Morgan is most famous as a pioneer of the study of comparative animal cognition. He was a highly influential figure for the North American Behaviourist movement: “Lloyd Morgan’s cannon” is a comparative psychologist’s version of Occam’s Razor whereby no behaviour should be ascribed to more complex cognitive mechanisms than strictly necessary. He was the first Fellow of the Royal Society to be elected for psychological work.
Otto Darbishire was appointed head of the Botany Department in 1911, in 1919 promoted to the newly created Chair of Botany, designated the Melville Wills Chair in 1930. Darbishire introduced different ecological regions in the Botanic Gardens and set up an experimental greenhouse with laboratories funded by avid plant collector Hiatt Baker. It was here that the Botany Department raised seeds from medicinal plants as part of the war effort in the Second World War.
Another notable botany professor during the 1930’s was Eric Ashby, subsequently Baron Ashby, famous as an educator as well as a scientist. He became Secretary of the Society for Experimental Biology while at Bristol, subsequently going on to become President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and chancellor of Queen’s University, Belfast.
The current School of Biological Sciences was founded in 1990 from the fusion of the Departments of Zoology – with its particular strengths in animal physiology – and Botany, where both plant taxonomy and agricultural research had long been at the forefront. Among many influential figures Howard Hinton stands out: world-renowned entomologist and Head of Zoology in the 1970’s, he published 17 papers before receiving his B.Sc. Hinton founded and edited the Journal of Insect Physiology and the journal Insect Biochemistry.
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