Natural Sciences Biological


The Natural Sciences Tripos is the framework within which most of the science is taught in Cambridge. There are seven experimental subjects in the first year, of which three must be taken. Some biologists choose the three biological modules – Biology of Cells, Physiology of Organisms and Evolution & Behaviour. However, the flexibility of the Natural Sciences Tripos offers the opportunity for students to avoid narrowing their options too early, and many students choose to study at least one of the four remaining subjects – Chemistry, Physics, Geology or Materials and Mineral Sciences, plus one or two of the biological courses. This not only maintains a broad scientific training, but also widens the choice of subjects that can be taken in the following years. In addition to the experimental subjects, students must take one of the available Maths courses. These are Elementary Maths for Biologists, which assumes only GCSE (or equivalent) Maths, Quantitative Biology, which requires A-level (or equivalent) Maths, or a more advanced course which is most suitable for those taking Physics and/or Chemistry.

In later years the Natural Sciences course allows students to pick and chose the papers that most interest them, allowing specialization, while retaining flexibility. Further details of all the courses available are available on the Natural Sciences Tripos pages.


Corpus has had no shortage of biologists associated with it, from Stephen Hales, the seventeenth century pioneering physiologist, to the ecologist and former Master of the College, Oliver Rackham OBE, who was well known for his  book “The History of the Countryside”. There are at present a large number of Corpus Fellows conducting research in biology related subjects ranging from Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Plant Sciences to Cancer Biology and Biological Physics.

Having close to a dozen Fellows in this area means students will have close attention and excellent teaching throughout their degree. It also means undergraduates have a chance to get to know and interact with leading researchers in many diverse fields. Our graduates in biological sciences go off to careers in research, consulting, the pharmaceutical industry amongst many others.

aldridgeDr. David Aldridge: Senior Lecturer in Aquatic Ecology, Director of Studies; a zoologist whose research interests include: the conservation of rare species and threatened ecosystems, the biology and control of invasive species, and the use of biological processes to develop sustainable remediation and monitoring programmes for degraded waterbodies. David is a College Teacher Officer and Director of Studies for Part IA and Part IB/II students focusing on more zoological subjects.
johncarrDr. John Carr: Fellow in Plant Sciences/University Reader in Virology and Molecular Plant Pathology; a plant scientist interested in the interactions of plants with pathogens and pests, why some plants actively resist their attackers, and how some pathogens manipulate the resistance responses of plants. John is a Director of Studies at Part IB, II and III courses, and supervises on the Physiology of Organisms course.
Ewan St John-Smith Corpus Christi College , Cambridge . Photo: Phil Mynott.Dr. Ewan St.John Smith: Fellow in Pharmacology/University Lecturer in Pharmacology; a neurobiologist whose research interests include pain and everything to do with naked mole-rats. He lectures on 2nd year Pharmacology and Neurobiology courses, as well as 3rd year Pharmacology and Neuroscience courses. Ewan is also the Director of Studies for Biological Natural Science students taking the more cellular and molecular aspects of Part IB, II and III courses.
sarahDr. Sarah Bohndiek: Fellow in Biological Physics/University Lecturer in Biomedical Physics; her research group focuses on new technological innovations to improve understanding of metabolic processes in disease in the hope of using these innovations to improve cancer patient survival, by finding routes to overcome drug resistance and eventually enabling earlier cancer detection.
Dr. Vickie Braithwaite: Research Fellow in Bone Health and Nutrition/MRC Career Development Fellow; her research interests include bone mineral and iron storage and metabolism with a particular interest in FGF23 biology during pregnancy and childhood. Vickie’s research is based in Africa in countries including The Gambia, Malawi and Kenya. Vickie is involved in teaching as part of College outreach programmes.
cicutaProf. Pietro Cicuta: Fellow in Biological Physics/University Professor in Physics; his research interests include understanding self-assembly of phospholipids, the hydrodynamic synchronisation of motile cilia and physical mechanisms of regulating gene expression in bacteria.
Dr. Rune Busk Damgaard : Research Fellow in Molecular Biology is a career acceleration post-doctoral Fellow at the MRC. He has a degree in molecular biomedicine with a strong background in biochemistry, molecular cell biology and pathophysiology. His main research interest is in understanding how ubiquitylation regulates cellular signaling cascades.
howeProf. Chris Howe: Professorial Fellow/University Professor of Plant and Microbial Biochemistry; a biochemist whose research interests include the biochemistry of protists, such as the malaria parasite, Plasmodium, and photosynthesis and its exploitation. He lectures in the first year course on Evolution and Behaviour, and the second and third year Biochemistry courses. He also directs studies for the Corpus preclinical medics and supervises their 1st year Molecules in Medical Science course.
robinsonDr. Hugh Robinson: Fellow in Neuroscience/University Senior Lecturer in Neuroscience; his research interests include electrophysiology of cortical neurons, and glutamate receptor ion channels, lectures and supervises on with the 1st year Homeostasis and 2nd year Neurobiology and Human Behaviour courses.
Prof. Alison Smith: Fellow in Plant Biology/University Professor in Plant Biochemistry; her research addresses several aspects of the metabolism of plants, algae and bacteria, in particular for the biosynthesis of vitamins and cofactors, lipids and isoprenoids. Her group is pioneering the use of synthetic biology approaches to develop microalgae as platforms for the production of these high value compounds for biotechnology. In addition, she is studying symbiotic interactions between algae and bacteria, which has implications both for the natural environment and for industrial cultivation of these organisms.
frascaspadaDr. Marina Frasca-Spada: Senior Tutor/Affiliated Lecturer in History and Philosophy of Science and in Philosophy; her research interests include issues in metaphysics and philosophy of science as well as in the history of early modern philosophy. Marina is the Director of Studies for the History and Philosophy of Science option in the NST and supervises for papers on Metaphysics, Philosophy of Science, Early Modern Philosophy, and Kant.


Candidates for the biological side of Natural Sciences should specify this on the Supplementary Application Questionnaire. There is no absolute requirement for Biology A2 Levels (or equivalent), but candidates should have at least two science subjects, one of which should be either Biology or Chemistry. Interviews usually take the form of a general discussion about biology. On the basis of the interview conditional offers will be made to successful candidates. Candidates wishing to learn more about the life sciences at Corpus are invited to attend an Open Day at the College.


3 (2015_05_12 15_16_10 UTC)Zoe Morris, 3rd year Biologist

“I always thought I wanted a larger college until I saw Corpus and just fell in love with it, from how friendly the Porters are to how pretty it is! The smaller size helps you to be more social as you get to know pretty much everyone in the College, which, talking to people from larger Colleges is next to impossible with so many people. It means that Corpus has this friendly vibe and there is always someone around to talk to. We have so many layers of welfare and support from Tutors, to a College Counsellor, and of course the student welfare team who are always happy to talk when you need them. Being in the centre of town is amazing too as it means I am really close to my lectures and to the all-important Sainsbury’s as well as lots of societies and events. I don’t have a bike, and I wouldn’t be able to get so much done and be so involved with other activities, as well as in my own Department, if I didn’t live in the centre.

Natural Sciences is a challenging course, but the Corpus community is great and there is always someone to ask if you have difficulties (my College Dad got a lot of messages from me, especially in first year!). If you enjoy being busy, enjoy a challenge and, of course, love science then this is the course for you! There are so many options to choose from: in my second year I took Biochemistry, Neurobiology and Chemistry B, but one of my friends who took the same first year modules as me went on to study Plants, Animal Biology and Cell and Developmental Biology). This means you can try out a lot of subjects before deciding where your true interests lie.”


Lara Busby, 3rd year Biologist

“It’s a cliché, but I chose Corpus because the moment I walked into New Court for the first time I just felt that it was the right college for me. The fact that we’re one of the smaller colleges in terms of student numbers means that you tend to know everyone else, which I have found makes Corpus an extremely welcoming and inclusive environment to live and study in. Being in the centre of Cambridge is really handy as well because you’re never too far from anywhere you could need to go. The welfare system at Corpus is also great. There are multiple layers of contact if you have any concerns (you have a director of studies, a tutor and there’s also a student JCR welfare team) meaning that any little problems tend to be resolved quickly.
Studying Biological Natural Sciences here has been hard work but totally worth it. A typical week is busy, with lectures, lab work and supervisions making up the majority of your time. We’re also encouraged to spend some time outside of these timetabled hours preparing essays/ problem sheets for supervisions and consolidating lecture material. The great thing about Natural Sciences as a course is that there is just so much choice in content – meaning that you get to try out lots of different disciplines before most people choose one or two specialisms in their third year. I’m so grateful that I have had the opportunity to try a number of subjects here as my interests have evolved through the past couple of years as I’ve been introduced to different subject areas.”

To get a sense of the types of research our Fellows are involved in, watch Prof. Howe explaining his work on synthetic organisms.


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