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
- Earth Sciences
- Evolution and Behaviour
- Materials Science
- Physiology of Organisms
Most of these can be tackled as new subjects. In addition, all students take one of the Mathematics courses. There are three options, tailored to different levels of interest and attainment.
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).
For Natural Sciences, it is desirable that you take four science A-levels (usually from Maths, Further Maths, Biology, Physics and Chemistry). However, if you are unable to take four science subjects (e.g. because your school does not offer it) then you will be at no disadvantage when you apply (but please make this clear on your form). We are also happy to consider applicants offering three sciences with or without another subject. Applicants with just two sciences at A-level should consult the course guide carefully to ensure that it is possible for them to choose enough options in the first year.
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.
"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, Reader in Oncology
Directors of Studies
- Dr Paul Bristowe, Director of Studies in Materials Science and Reader in Materials Science
- Prof Catherine Clarke, Director of Studies in Astronomy, Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics
- Prof Nicola Clayton, Director of Studies in Experimental Psychology, Professor of Comparative Cognition Psychology
- Dr Paul Edwards, Director of Studies in Pathology, Reader in Cancer Biology
- Dr Patricia Fara, Director of Studies in History & Philosophy of Science
- Dr William Foster, Director of Studies in Animal Biology and Zoology, Senior Lecturer in Zoology
- Dr John Gibson, Director of Studies in Physiology, Reader in Pathophysiology
- Professor Jonathan Goodman, Director of Studies in Chemistry, Professor of Chemistry
- Prof Neil Greenham, Director of Studies in Physics, Professor of Physics
- Prof Howard Griffiths, Director of Studies in Plant Sciences, Professor of Plant Ecology
- Dr Bart Hallmark, External Director of Studies in Chemical Engineering
- Prof William Harris, Director of Studies in Neuroscience, Professor of Anatomy
- Prof Tim Lewens, Director of Studies in Philosophy, Professor of Philosophy of Science
- Prof Gordon Ogilvie, Director of Studies in Mathematics for Natural Sciences, Professor of Mathematical Astrophysics
- Dr Colin Russell, Director of Studies in Biological Mathematics, Royal Society University Research Fellow in Epidemiology
- Dr Hendrik van Veen, Director of Studies in Pharmacology, Reader in Molecular Pharmacology
- Dr Nigel Woodcock, Director of Studies in Earth Sciences, Reader in Earth Sciences
Other Fellows in the Sciences
- Prof Andrew Balmford, Conservation Science
- Dr Michael Bown, Emeritus Lecturer in Crystallography
- Dr Jason Carroll, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute
- Dr Lucy Colwell, Chemistry
- Prof Robert Glen, Unilever Professor of Molecular Informatics
- Prof David Hodell, Earth Sciences
- Prof Volker Heine, Emeritus Professor of Theoretical Physics
- Dr Peter Knewstubb, Emeritus Assistant Director of Research in Chemistry
- Prof Peter Leadlay, Professor of Biochemistry
- Prof Ottoline Leyser, Professor of Plant Development
- Prof Donald Lynden-Bell, Emeritus Professor of Astrophysics
- Dr Clemens Matthiesen, Physics
- Prof Jeremiah Ostriker, Emeritus Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy
- Prof Richard Phillips, Professor of Physics
- Dr Kenneth Riley, Emeritus Lecturer in Physics
- Prof Michiel Sprik, Professor of Theoretical Chemistry
- Dr Edgar Turner, Zoology
- Prof Lorraine Tyler, Research Professor of Experimental Psychology
Click here for a list of recommended books.