Introduction to the School

Find out more about our school's history, research and teaching and notable alumni.

Overview of the School

The School of Biological Sciences has one of the largest concentrations of biologists in the United Kingdom, with a wide range of disciplines and around 200 new undergraduates enrolled each year. 

Our teaching is based upon our phenomenal research strengths, so students are taught by scientists of international repute. This leads to great opportunities for our students to gain new knowledge and skills from teaching in class as well as through self-driven learning such as projects, practicals and field work. These skills equip our students to go on and thrive in whatever they choose to do after University.

Beginnings of Biological Sciences

The study of Biological Sciences at the University of Edinburgh began in 1738 with the establishment of the first Chair of Botany.

As University departments and specialisms in Biological Sciences gradually increased, so did the demand for laboratory facilities, leading to the creation of the King's Buildings campus.

History of the School

An aerial view of the King's Buildings campus with the city and Arthur's Seat in the background.
The King's Buildings Campus

King's Buildings

Named for then King George V, who endorsed the new developments and gave permission to use his name for the collection of new facilities, King's Buildings houses most of the Schools of the College of Science and Engineering.

KB101: celebrating a century of science and engineering

Established in 1920, the campus accommodated first class research spaces. This would become an ongoing tradition, with the continuous establishment of research centres and institutes and new and experimental laboratory facilities.

Our Research

Currently our research is organised into six Research Institutes. The 2014 UK research excellence assessment placed us 3rd in the UK for our research quality, and we are ranked in the UK top 5 and world top 25 for biological sciences in both the QS and Times Higher world university rankings.

We place a particularly strong emphasis on interdisciplinary research, linking complementary approaches in theoretical and experimental science and working closely with physical sciences, engineering, medical and veterinary sciences.



Notable Staff and Alumni

Charles Darwin - Although he didn't study Biology, enrolling as a medical student in 1825, Darwin was a prominent member of the Plinian Society, a student natural-history group. He has been credited for founding a new branch of life science: Evolutionary Biology. Darwin's contributions to evolutionary biology, particularly the then extraordinary scientific advance of the discovery of natural selection, had a significant impact on the philosophy of biology.

Daniel Rutherford - Rutherford's most significant achievement was the discovery of nitrogen. He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, but went on to become a professor of Botany. A  joint founder of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Rutherford also held the positions of  5th Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden and president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

Noreen Murray - A highly respected molecular geneticist who helped pioneer the first genetic engineering technology. It was Noreen, together with her husband Ken, who realised that because you could cut DNA with restriction enzymes, it was therefore possible to join different pieces of DNA together to produce recombinant DNA sequences. She joined the newly formed Department of Molecular Biology at the University of Edinburgh in 1968 going on to hold a personal chair in molecular genetics until her retirement in 2001. She was Vice-President of the Royal Society of London, President of the Genetical Society of Great Britain, a member of the Council of BBSRC, and a Trustee of the Darwin Trust of Edinburgh that she and Ken established to support research in the natural sciences.

Ken Murray - Biogen Professor of Molecular Biology, Sir Kenneth Murray developed the Hepatitis B vaccine, the first vaccine developed using genetic engineering. He was Chairman, and founded with Noreen, the Darwin Trust of Edinburgh and was co-founder of the first European-based Biotechnology company, Biogen. The Noreen and Kenneth Murray Library, at the King's Buildings campus, recognises the prestigious careers and achievements of both Ken and Noreen.

Aubrey Manning - Professor of Natural History, Manning was a natural communicator whose enthusiasm for the subject inspired his students. He was also a popular writer and television science presenter, working with the BBC to produce several TV and radio series.  Manning was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, received an OBE in 1998 and held several honorary doctorates. After retirement, he became Emeritus Professor.

Charlotte Auerbach - was a German zoologist and geneticist who completed her PhD at the Institute of Animal Genetics, as it was then known, at the University of Edinburgh after fleeing Nazism in Germany in 1933. She continued her work in Edinburgh, becoming a lecturer in 1947, Professor of Genetics in 1967 and Professor Emeritus in 1969. Much of her research was focussed on mustard gas and the mutagenic effects it had on Drosophila (fruit flies). She was a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and of the Royal Society of London. One of the roads at the King's Buildings campus is named after her.

More about our Notable Alumni

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