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Natural Science

Alaska Expedition Team, 1977 (Ref: C/RPT2/14)Alaska Expedition Team, 1977 (Ref: C/RPT2/14)The Department of Natural Science was in existence from the inception of South-Western Polytechnic Institute in 1895, with initial studies concentrating on the fields of Biology, Botany, Zoology and Geology.

From 1923, with courses established in Mineralogy for Jewellers, Chelsea established itself as the principal centre for education in Mineralogy and Gemmology. Its training was recognised both by the National Association of Goldsmiths and the jewellery trade, obtaining support from a number of industry leaders including Messrs Selfridge. This success led to the development of a separate Department for Geology and Mineralogy in 1932 and to the renaming of the Department of Natural Science as the Department of Biology.

Later years saw the establishment of Geology and Basic Biological Sciences (including Applied Biology and Zoology) as separate departments. A notable development in 1974 saw the launch of the Monitoring and Assessment Research Centre (MARC), a major initiative at Chelsea, aimed at formulating procedures for the definition, evaluation and solution of major environmental problems of global, national and regional concern. The first centre of its type in the world, MARC received immediate initial funding of around $1million from the UN Environmental Programme.

Biological Sciences field trip to Alaska, 1977 (Ref: C/PH6/4)Biological Sciences field trip to Alaska, 1977 (Ref: C/PH6/4)A particular highlight of the achievements in the Department of Biological Sciences was an expedition to Alaska in 1977. Whilst field trips had been a longstanding activity among research students since the formation of the College’s Geological Field Club in 1911, the trip to Alaska was a significant undertaking, in relation to both organisation and execution, and in terms of achievement. The hydrobiological expedition to Glacier Bay, Alaska was the initiative of postgraduate students including Sandy Milner (leader), John Barker, Harry Hill, Mike Stuart and Martin Stark, who were accompanied on the trip by two cameramen, an engineer and a cook. The students spent three months in Glacier Bay studying the re-colonisation by plants and animals of the exposed land and freshwater lakes and streams left behind by rapidly retreating glacial ice. Such was the success of the trip that Sandy Milner was awarded a grant from the Royal Society for a return visit to continue the work.

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