History

Coming together

The Department of Biological Sciences came into existence with the merger of five former departments (Botany, Entomology, Genetics, Microbiology and Zoology) on July 1, 1994. What occurred on July 1, 1994 was actually a 2-step merger. Discussions on the merger between the Department of Entomology in the Faculty of Agriculture, Forestry and Home Economics and the Department of Zoology in the Faculty of Science was already well on its way when the decision to merge all five departments was made. The Departments of Entomology and Zoology merged first into a “new Department of Zoology”, bringing Entomology into the Faculty of Science; this “new Department of Zoology” then merged instantaneously with Botany, Genetics, and Microbiology forming the Department of Biological Sciences.   

Although the Department of Biological Sciences is relatively young, the history of its constituents can be traced back to the early years of the University of Alberta. A Department of Biology already existed by 1912 at the University of Alberta in the then Faculty of Arts and Science. In 1921, the Departments of Zoology and Botany were formed from this Department of Biology. So in some ways, history has come “full-circle” with the 1994 merger. The former Department of Entomology was formedin 1922 in the Faculty of Agriculture. The Department of Genetics was formed in October 1, 1961 in the Faculty of Agriculture, and moved into the Faculty of Science in 1966. The former Department of Microbiology started in 1957 as a Division in the Department of Bacteriology, in the Faculty of Medicine and moved into the Faculty of Science in 1963 and becoming a department. Thus, the Department of Biological Sciences can trace some of its roots to three different faculties on campus.   

Biological Sciences Building After Completion Late 1960's

Strong teaching tradition

The Department of Biological Sciences and its former entities have always been heavily involved in undergraduate teaching for students in science, medicine and agriculture. In addition to undergraduate teaching, graduate student training has also been a valued tradition. The Department of Biology graduated its first MSc student in 1916 (Gwendelyne Tuttle; supervisor: F. Lewis). By the end of 1994, the five former departments have graduated a total of 1168 graduate students. This tradition continues in the Department of Biological Sciences with 261 MSc and 168 PhD theses successfully completed from January 1, 1995 to February 28, 2004.   

Stellar research achievements

Since its formation in 1994, the Department of Biological Sciences has continued to build on the excellence inherited from the former departments. For example, in research funding, total annual research support increased from $8.2 million in 1994 to $16.5 million in 2003. The size of our average NSERC individual operating grant continues to be at 1.3 to 1.5 times higher than the NSERC national average. Our graduate students and academic staff members are recognized nationally and internationally for their accomplishments (accolades and awards). As we reflect on our past achievements, we are committed to maintaining and further enhancing our excellence. 

Locations of former departments

The original Medical Building (currently the Dentistry / Pharmacy Centre) has housed the original Department of Biology. The Departments of Botany and Zoology were also housed here when these two departments were formed in 1921. In 1922, The Department of Entomology was originally located in space allotted to Zoology in the Medical Building and later in its own allotted space. Proximity and working relationships between these three former departments were established very early. The Department of Microbiology also has its departmental offices in the Medical Building when it was formed in 1964. Thus four of the five former departments had space in this building at one point in time. 
In 1958, Entomology moved to spaces in the then new Agriculture Building (now Earth Sciences Building). This building also housed the Departments of Botany and Zoology in the 1960s. The Department of Genetics (derived from the Department of Plant Science) was also located here when it was founded 1961. Obviously the limited space within the Agriculture Building and the Medical Building meant that several “satellites” sites were also utilized by the five former departments. These included spaces in university-owned houses in the Garneau District, houses along the north side of 87th Ave where the current Education South is, the temporary laboratories south of the Agriculture Building and west of the green house (the trailers east of Chemistry East that were only recently demolished), the old West Lab (site of the current Student’s Union Building), the Provincial Lab (southeast corner of 87th Ave and 114th Street, opposite the Education Car Park, demolished 2003) and the Athabasca Annex.  
 
With the completion of the Biological Sciences Centre in 1970, the Departments of Botany, Genetics, Microbiology and Zoology moved into their respective wings in this “new” building and rapidly expanded. The completion of the Biological Sciences Centre, in combination with the completion of the Agriculture / Forestry Centre and the relocation of several departments of this Faculty into this building, allowed Entomology to consolidate all its space into the Earth Sciences Building. The current space occupied by the Department of Biological Sciences represents (almost totally) the space of the former five departments at the point of their merger in 1994.