Clare College Cambridge

Natural Sciences

Link to University Subject Page


Cambridge is renowned throughout the world for its excellence in scientific research in a wide variety of fields, from genetic engineering to evolutionary biology, from nanotachnology to astrophysics.  An important factor in establishing this success has been the ease of interchange of ideas and techniques between scientific disciplines.  It is therefore natural that the chief features of the teaching of the Natural Sciences at Cambridge are breadth and flexibility.  It is broad because you cannot study just one science: you must start with a range of three subjects, at least one of which will probably be new.  It is flexible because you can change direction easily as your interests develop: for example, you may begin the course intending to be a physicist and end up a molecular biologist, or you may transfer to a completely different subject such as Chemical Engineering or Management Studies.

In the first year you must choose three sciences from among the following:

  • Biology of Cells
  • Chemistry
  • Earth Sciences
  • Evolution and Behaviour
  • Physics
  • Materials Science
  • Physiology of Organisms

Most of these can be tackled as new subjects. In addition, all students take either Mathematics or Mathematical Biology.

It is also possible to study Computer Science in the first year, replacing one subject with computer science. This does not lead to second year Computer Science. Mathematics with Physics, is also a first year option, but anyone interested in this must apply as a mathematician and not as a natural scientist.

In the second year more specialization is possible, with a choice of courses from about twenty options. In the third year, most people concentrate on one subject only. In this year, you become identified with a particular Department. Your work, which may include a research project, brings you into direct contact with working scientists and to the forefront of current understanding in the subject. A degree can be obtained after three years, but Physics, Chemistry, Geological Sciences, Materials Sciences and Metallurgy, Biochemistry and some other subjects offer an optional fourth year with further specialisation. Field trips are an essential part of some courses, including Ecology and Earth Sciences. Further details of particular subjects are contained in the Cambridge University Guide to Courses.

A degree in Natural Sciences from Cambridge is an excellent qualification for employment - and not only in the scientific sphere. The University has good contacts with local research institutes, and a number of science-based companies whose establishment in the area has been promoted by the University in recent years. A good proportion of those graduating go on to do a PhD degree and research work in universities and in industry, but some of our graduates go on to careers in law, management, teaching, broadcasting, accountancy, computing, public relations and so on.

Studying Natural Science at Clare

The College has a strong tradition of excellence in Natural Sciences with a large number of teaching Fellows covering most of the individual subjects within the Tripos. Dr Andrew Ferguson and Dr Andrew Carter advise on the choice of subjects as overall Directors of Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences respectively. In each individual science, there is a Director of Studies. Almost all of these are Fellows of Clare, who will supervise you or arrange for supervision from an appropriate specialist.

There is a College Natural Science Society - The Whiston Society. This organises social events and an annual dinner to which a distinguished speaker is invited.

Natural Scientists studying biological subjects at Clare are eligible to compete for places on three summer placement schemes organised by the college.  These include the Watson Scholarship at Cold Spring Harbor in the USA, a summer placement in Dr Mark Poznansky's lab at Harvard university (in competition with medical students) and a Tsinghua-Cambridge Summer Studentship Exchange scheme in China. See here.


Each year we accept 25-35 students, but there is no College quota for Natural Sciences nor for the numbers of Biological and Physical Scientists: our sole concern is to find those students with the potential to make the most of the science teaching offered by Cambridge. Candidates are interviewed in December. The normal pattern is for two interviews to bring out your scientific interests.

Each offer is tailored to you personally, taking into account your individual circumstances, including school background, special access arrangements and the nature of your course. The typical offers for science subjects will be A*A*A or A*A*AA (depending on the number of science A-levels you are taking).

All applicants for natural sciences will take a pre-interview admissions assessment. Details are on the university web page

Student Profiles

Lorna Wills, Anna Peel
Recent Graduates:
Ellie Adams, Alex Batchelor, Will ChambersClaire Harwell, Holly Rees

Nobel Prize Winners

Dr Tim Hunt, Hon. Fellow, Nobel Prize Winner, discovered the first cyclin molecule in the early 1980s. Cyclins are proteins formed and degraded during each cell cycle. They were named cyclins because the levels of these proteins vary periodically during the cell cycle. The cyclins bind to the CDK molecules, thereby regulating the CDK activity and selecting the proteins to be phosphorylated.

Dr James Watson, Discoverer of the DNA Molecule, Hon. Fellow, Nobel Prize Winner for physiology or medicine.

"Suddenly to see the molecule which is responsible for heredity, and which makes possible human existence, was a very big step in man's understanding of himself in the same sense that Darwin knew that the human species wasn't fixed, that we were changing. It was bound to affect your attitude to everything".

Fellows in Natural Sciences

Overall Directors of Studies

  • Dr Andrew Ferguson, Director of Studies for Physical Natural Sciences.  
  • Dr Andrew Carter, Director of Studies for Biological Natural Sciences (first year), MRC-LMB Group Leader
  • Professor Anna Philpott, Director of Studies for Biological Natural Sciences (second year), Director of Studies in Biology of Cells, Biochemistry, Cell and Developmental Biology, Professor of Cancer and Developmental Biology

Directors of Studies


Other Fellows in the Sciences


Reading Lists

Click here for a list of recommended books.