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  History and Background

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> About the Institute > History and background

Boyd_OrrLord Boyd Orr

"The most interesting thing about the early history of the Institute is that it originated in a misunderstanding on the part of the first worker appointed. Neither the government departments concerned nor the local authorities had any idea of establishing an Institute."

Lord Boyd Orr

The Institute was founded in 1913 when a Joint Committee of the University of Aberdeen and the North of Scotland College of Agriculture decided that an Institute for Research in Animal Nutrition should be established in Scotland.

On the first of April 1914 Dr John Boyd Orr (later Lord Boyd Orr) arrived in Aberdeen and found that there was no Institute. He started work in temporary buildings at the University of Aberdeen

Despite his shock at the prospect of leaving his well equipped lab in Glasgow 'to work in isolation in a wooden laboratory in the wilds of Aberdeenshire', Orr drew up some plans for a nutrition research institute. At the same time he committed the £5000 which was available to the building of a granite laboratory block at Craibstone, not far from the present site of the Rowett.

John Quiller Rowett


The first world war interrupted the Institute's progress but Orr returned to Aberdeen in 1919 and with a staff of four started work in the new laboratory.

Orr continued to push for a new research institute and finally the Government agreed to pay half the costs but stipulated that the other half was to be found from other sources.

Orr was fortunate to meet John Quiller Rowett, a wealthy man who was the Director of a wine and spirits merchants based in London.


Queen Mary performing
the opening ceremony

In 1920 Rowett provided money to purchase 41 acres to provide a suitable site for the Institute to be built on. In addition, Rowett contributed £10,000 towards the cost of the buildings. It's easy to see why it was decided to name the Institute after him.

The money was given with one very important condition: Namely that "if any work done at the Institute on animal nutrition was found to have a bearing on human nutrition, the Institute would be allowed to follow up this work." The Institute was formally opened in 1922 by Queen Mary with a tree planting ceremony.

The Reid Library


• The first major expansion of the Institute came in 1923 when Mr Walter A Reid, a senior partner in a firm of local accountants, provided £5000 to create the library and later a further £5000 to develop it. Seen here as it is today.

• By 1930, the Institute had grown broadly into its current shape. The main laboratory block had been joined by the Duthie experimental farm, the Reid Library and Strathcona House, all made possible by donations from generous benefactors.

Sir David Cuthbertson


Animal production to meet the needs of man

Boyd Orr was succeeded as Director in 1945 by Dr David Cuthbertson, who came from the Medical research Council

Under Cuthbertson's direction the Institute greatly expanded, but its research was changed to focus entirely on farm animal nutrition. The realisation during the war that the nation's farmers produced only a third of its food led to the emergence in 1945 of agriculture as a priority industry for post-war Britain. No work on human nutrition was considered necessary in view of the success of wartime food policies.

Sir David oversaw a tremendous expansion of the institute's research activities and a matching growth in buildings and facilities. Again, the Institute benefited from a large number of generous benefactors.

Sir David retired from the Institute in 1965 and the annual Cuthbertson award was introduced in his memory. The award recognises postgraduate students who have carried out research of a particularly high standard during their time at the Institute

Dr R L M Synge


In 1952 Dr R L M Synge was awarded the Nobel prize for Chemistry jointly with Dr A J P Martin for their discovery of partition chromatography.

This was the third Nobel laureateship associated with the Institute, the others being Professor J J R Macleod, a former Honorary Consultant in Physiology to the Institute, and Lord Boyd Orr who received the prize for peace.

Sir Kenneth Lyon Blaxter


Kenneth Lyon Blaxter was the third Rowett Director from 1965-1982. His previous post was Head of the Nutrition Department at the Hannah Research Institute based in Ayr.

During his time as Director, the Institute considerably enhanced its position as a world leader in research on animal nutrition, focusing on the needs of the farming industry.

Sir Kenneth was a man with tremendous energy and produced over 400 scientific papers and reports during his career. He was a world expert on the energy metabolism of ruminant animals. He also received a great many honours, including Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1967.

Towards the end of his time with the Rowett, Sir Kenneth introduced a limited programme of research on human nutrition, reflecting the growing awareness of the need for more studies in this area.

Professor W.P.T. James


Professor James arrived at the Rowett in 1982 and under his direction the research on human nutrition was once again expanded.

Professor James became recognised as a world expert in the field of human nutrition. He made many important contributions to the development of nutrition policy and is an advisor to many international organisations.

Under his Directorship The Human Nutrition Unit was established at the Institute, which provides unique facilities for dietary and metabolic studies on normal healthy volunteers

Professor James developed blueprint proposals which led to the Government White paper `The Food Standards Agency: A force for change', which ultimately led to the establishment of the Food Standards Agency.

Professor Peter Morgan


Professor Peter Morgan was appointed as Director of the Rowett on 1 July 1999, having been a member of staff since 1985

Professor Morgan has developed a new vision and science strategy for the Institute to ensure that the science undertaken by the Institute remains as relevant today as it has in the past.

To support the new research programmes Professor Morgan has introduced new and powerful technologies such as genomics and proteomics, which allow the relationship between nutrients and cellular biochemistry to be explored in ways previously not possible.

The aim is to ensure that the Rowett remains at the international forefront of biological research.

Rowett Research Institute 2005