What most people call 'science', Cambridge calls the 'Natural Sciences' (and hence 'natsci' is the local slang for a Cambridge science student). Most students who wish to study science in Cambridge would apply to read the Natural Sciences Tripos, whether they are biologists, chemists, physicists or geologists. Other Cambridge courses with 'science' in the title that are not part of the Natural Sciences Tripos include Human, Social and Political Sciences, Medical & Veterinary Sciences and Computer Science, although some courses in computing are also available to Natural Scientists. Experimental Psychology is a Natural Science subject in Cambridge, but psychology can alternatively be studied within the Psychological & Behavioural Sciences Tripos.
In their first year, Cambridge natscis must choose three science subjects plus one of the four alternative mathematics courses. The available science subjects are: Biology of Cells, Evolution & Behaviour, Physiology of Organisms (forming the ‘biological’ Natural Sciences), Chemistry, Computer Science, Earth Sciences, Materials Science and Physics (the ‘physical’ Natural Sciences). The mathematics courses are Mathematics Course A, Mathematics Course B, Mathematical Biology and Elementary Mathematics for Biologists.
One of the best and most distinctive features of Cambridge Natural Sciences is the opportunity it gives students to explore a broad range of different disciplines, before deciding where their talents and interests are best suited: you don’t have to commit yourself to a single science at the beginning of your studies. All combinations are possible in theory. For their experimental subjects, most ‘physical’ Natural Scientists take Physics and Chemistry, plus either Materials Science, Earth Sciences or Biology of Cells. Most ‘biological’ natural scientists from St. Catharine’s tend to choose Biology of Cells and Physiology of Organisms, plus either Chemistry, Earth Sciences or Evolution & Behaviour. Students intending to specialise in Physics or Chemistry, with a strong background in mathematics, will usually take Mathematics Course B. Students with a weaker background in mathematics will usually take Mathematics Course A. Students intending to specialise in biological sciences with Mathematics at A2 Level will usually take Mathematical Biology, whereas those without Mathematics at A2 Level will usually take Elementary Mathematics for Biologists. Note that St Catharine’s favours applicants with A2 Level Maths.
Whichever first-year courses you opt for, each one comprises a total of 60 one-hour lectures, occurring every other day of the week (Sundays not included), together with related practical work which averages out to two to three hours per week per subject. Earth Sciences and Evolution & Behaviour also have University-run field courses away from Cambridge during the Easter vacation. Each course has associated with it a one-hour ‘supervision’, once a week, in which groups of two to four students explore with a supervisor the subjects of the lectures which they attended the previous week, as well as branching out into broader discussions of scientific discovery. These supervisions are organised by the particular College that you belong to. Our students therefore have individual access to specialist supervisors in each subject that they take: the supervisors might include lecturers, researchers or even professors in that field. Each student’s progress is overseen by a Director of Studies, usually a Fellow of the College, who will personally guide their work and monitor their progress.
The second year is organized along much the same lines as the first year, except that only three subjects have to be taken, the choice is larger (and the subjects correspondingly more specialized), maths is no longer compulsory and some project work may replace laboratory practicals. The second-year subjects are: Animal Biology, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Cell & Developmental Biology, Chemistry A and B, Ecology, Experimental Psychology, Geological Sciences A and B, History & Philosophy of Science, Materials Science, Mathematics, Neurobiology, Pathology, Pharmacology, Physics A and B, Physiology and Plant & Microbial Sciences. Most ‘sensible’ combinations are possible.
In the third year, most students specialize in one single subject chosen from an equally wide range, although a more general approach (pursuing two or three subjects) is also possible. Several subjects now offer both three- and four-year courses, so St Catharine’s advises all Natural Scientists to inform their Local Education Authorities that they are enrolled on a four-year course. Most third year courses include a research project as a significant (and exciting) component.
Faculty website: http://www.natsci.tripos.cam.ac.uk/prospective-students
St Catharine’s accepts some 25-35 natscis each year, including one or two who will move across to the Chemical Engineering Tripos in their second year: together they form more than 20% of the undergraduate population. The College is a lively and varied place to study Natural Sciences, not least because of the John Ray Society, the College Natural Science society. Named after the famous 17th century naturalist who was a member of St Catharine’s, and run by the undergraduates, the John Ray Society organises talks by visiting scientists and Fellows as well as social events for the College natscis. We also have an excellent and newly-refurbished library, well-stocked with the latest core texts, which is a pleasant place to work. There are a number of scholarships and prizes available for those natural science undergraduates who perform particularly well in their exams.
Rather than looking at the more superficial and obvious features, one of the best reasons to choose any particular College is on the grounds of who will be teaching you. Your supervisors and Directors of Studies represent your academic mentors through three or four years of study, and they can make a substantial difference to your enjoyment and success in a particular academic discipline.
Our Fellows in the Natural Sciences are the lecturers and researchers specifically attached to St Catharine's (as opposed to any other College), whose job it is to supervise and direct studies if you read Natural Sciences here. When not teaching students, they research such exotic subjects as ozone holes, complex networks, material for supersonic engines, bacterial genetics, cosmology, evolution of the ear and the sex-lives of lagoonal mudsnails. Several are also Fellows of the Royal Society, one of the highest distinctions for a scientist. The Master of St Catharine’s, Professor Dame Jean Thomas, is herself a very eminent biochemist. Follow this link to see some of our famous natsci alumni!
The St Catharine’s Fellowship is particularly strong in terms of natural science teaching. Many of our Fellows have significant roles in teaching and examining the undergraduate courses for the University, which means that they are very well-placed to help our undergraduates. Catz Fellows whom you will find lecturing and running practical labs in courses that you might be considering taking in your first or second years here include Jeff Dalley (neuroscience), Jessica Gwynne (materials), Richard Harrison (earth sciences), Matt Mason (physiology), Philip Oliver (cell biology) and Peter Wothers (chemistry). You may have seen Dr. Wothers on television, giving the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures in 2012!
The St Catharine's Fellows share the responsibility of guiding our Natural Science students through their courses, and they conduct many of the supervisions personally. The interest that our Natural Science Fellows take in the academic progress of their students in St Catharine’s represents a key reason for our success in this area and the excellent postgraduate careers that our students are helped to pursue following their time here. Indeed, we feel that the particularly close mentoring between our Fellows and students represents one of the most important things which distinguishes St Catharine's from other Colleges.
Information on specific subjects
At St Catharine's, we take students reading all Natural Sciences courses. Please follow the links below for further specific information about studying some of these subjects.
For Natural Sciences admissions, St Catharine's does not require STEP papers, nor do we currently ask for any additional qualifications or tests beyond the Admissions Assessments required by the University in general. Our selection of Natural Science students is based on school record, references and performance in the written assessments and at interview. We are particularly keen to attract students with a genuine passion for science, from all walks of life!
In addition to the University guidelines (follow this link), we strongly recommend that biological candidates are taking full A Level (or equivalent) Chemistry and Mathematics, as many of the first year courses will prove difficult without this background. We also very much favour three science/maths full A Levels rather than two plus another subject. IB applicants are encouraged to take three science/maths subjects, with at least two at Higher Level (you may not be able to take three at HL). Candidates with alternative subject combinations may find themselves at a competitive disadvantage during the admissions procedure.
Further details of entry requirements are available on the University website.
Dr David Aldridge
Dr David Aldridge is the overall Director of Studies for NST1A (biological) and he also looks after second and third year students with ecological/ whole organism interests. David leads the 1A Evolution & Behaviour field-course to Wales and is the Module Organiser for the part 2 Zoology course on Aquatic Ecology. He heads the Zoology Department’s Aquatic Ecology Group where his research interests focus on the ecology and conservation of aquatic ecosystems. Current activities include the prediction and control of invasive pests and the use of biological processes to monitor and remediate polluted freshwaters. This work takes him to fieldwork sites as diverse as the wetlands of Bangladesh and China, the shrimp farms of Colombia and the muddy bottoms of Cambridge’s rivers. David has strong links with national and international industries, government bodies and conservation agencies and takes a strong interest in helping St Catharine’s undergraduates find rewarding summer placements.
Professor Stuart Althorpe
Professor Stuart Althorpe supervises St. Catharine’s students in various aspects of Theoretical Chemistry, which is the application of theoretical physics to atoms and molecules. He is a Professor in the Chemistry department, where he gives a 1B lecture course introducing chemists to quantum mechanics and also lectures on reaction dynamics in Part III. His research focuses on the application of quantum mechanics to chemical reactions. This includes calculations of the wave functions of chemical reactions, which show the motion of the atoms on the femtosecond timescale, as well as large simulations of quantum tunnelling in clusters and liquids, which are carried out using parallel supercomputers.
Dr David Bainbridge
Dr David Bainbridge is Director of Studies in Veterinary Medicine at St Catharine's. He is also the University Clinical Veterinary Anatomist and organises much of the preclinical veterinary teaching in the University, including all the anatomy and reproductive biology. He supervises Catz vet students in first year anatomy and second year neuroanatomy, reproductive biology and comparative vertebrate biology, and also supervises third year projects. He has degrees in Zoology (1989) and Veterinary Medicine (1992) from Cambridge and spent time in mixed practice before studying at the Institute of Zoology at London Zoo (PhD 1996), the Royal Veterinary College and Cornell, Sydney and Oxford Universities. He has been a Fellow of Catz since 2003 and is also a tutor and admissions tutor. He is actively involved in promoting public understanding of science, giving frequent talks at schools (mainly to six- and seven-year-olds!) and writing popular science books. David also lectures on reproduction in NST 1B Physiology, and regularly works in private veterinary practice - mainly small animal.
Professor Jeff Dalley
Jeff Dalley is a Professor in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry and is the Director of Studies in Neuroscience and Psychology at the College. His research spans the fields of behavioural and cognitive neuroscience, psychopharmacology and the translation of basic advances in neuroscience to clinical psychopathology, including schizophrenia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Parkinson's disease and drug addiction. Educated in New Zealand and the UK, Jeff Dalley came to the College in 2007 where he supervises second year St Catharine's students reading neurobiology in the Natural Sciences and Medical and Veterinary Sciences Tripos.
Dr Anthony Davenport
Dr Anthony Davenport is Reader in Cardiovascular Pharmacology, University of Cambridge, and was previously British Heart Foundation Principal Scientist and for ten years held a BHF Science Lectureship. He is a Fellow and active member of the British Pharmacological Society and was previously chair of External Affairs, Trustee, Finance and Executive member. He is also a Fellow of the Hypertension Society. He is an executive member of the International Union of Pharmacology Committee on Receptor Nomenclature and Drug Classification, that maintains a data base of drugs and their target at http://www.guidetopharmacology.org/, chair of the Endothelin Receptor Sub-committee, member of the International Scientific Advisory Board on Endothelin; editorial board member of the British Journal of Pharmacology and Current Opinions in Pharmacology; editor of 'Receptor binding Techniques'. He has held programme grants from the BHF and was co-applicant on three MRC programme grants to establish the multi-imaging facilities at Addenbrooke's Hospital. He was elected British Pharmacological Society Australasian Visitor in 2014.
Dr Étienne Fodor
Junior Research Fellow
Dr Étienne Fodor obtained his PhD in theoretical physics at the University Paris Diderot, under the supervision of Paolo Visco and Frederic van Wijland, on the nonequilibrium signatures of fluctuations in living cells and self-propelled colloids. His research interests lie at the crossroad of statistical physics, soft matter and the study of living systems. As a member of the soft matter group headed by Professor Michael E. Cates at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, his work now focuses on active matter: systems of interacting agents able to sustain a systematic motion by consuming an external fuel.
Dr Jessica Gwynne
Dr Jessica Gwynne studied Natural Sciences (specialising in Materials Science) at Robinson College, Cambridge. She then completed a PhD in biomedical Materials Science, followed by several years of post-doctoral research. She is now a Teaching Fellow at the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, lecturing to the first, second and fourth year undergraduate students. She is Head of Year for IA Materials Science and she has supervised both first and second year Materials Science students for a number of years.
Professor Richard Harrison
Richard Harrison is a Professor in the Department of Earth Sciences and Director of Studies for Earth and Mineral Sciences at St. Catharine's. He is involved in lecturing the IA Earth Sciences course, the IB and Part II/III Mineral Sciences course, as well as demonstrating on undergraduate field trips. Professor Harrison specialises in understanding the physics and chemistry of natural materials and how their properties and behaviour impact the processes that shape our planet. He is particularly interested in the application of mineral magnetism to solve Earth Science problems, such as how organisms use magnetic minerals to navigate in the Earth's magnetic field, how the magnetic properties of sediment can reveal changes in Earth's past climate, and how the magnetic properties of meteorites can be used to investigate the processes that were occurring in the early solar system.
Dr Alpha Lee
Junior Research Fellow
Dr Alpha Lee is a Junior Research Fellow at St Catharine’s and a Group Leader and Winton Advanced Research Fellow in the Department of Physics. His research group focuses on combining physics with machine learning to accelerate drug discovery and chemical synthesis, as well as finding new materials for energy storage applications. Dr Lee obtained an MSc and DPhil from the Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford, and did postdoctoral research in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University as a UK-US Fulbright Scholar and a George F. Carrier Fellow.
Dr John Little
Dr John Little has over 30 years of experience in teaching and research in the field of Materials Sciences, with over 100 publications. His main interests were in high temperature corrosion of materials, particularly in new and advanced power systems. Currently he is President of the College, which entails administration of various College Committees and deputising for the Master when necessary. He teaches in both parts IA and IB of the Natural Sciences Tripos in the Materials Science papers. He is also the Senior Treasurer of the Amalgamated Sports Clubs of the College, which means looking after all the College sports facilities from the newly-refurbished Boat Club to the new astrturf Hockey pitch.
Professor Stefan Marciniak
Professor Stefan Marciniak is a Principal Investigator at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research (CIMR) where his lab studies the role of endoplasmic reticulum stress in disease. In addition, he is an Honorary Consultant Respiratory Physician at Addenbrooke’s Hospital with a clinical sub-specialty interest in pleural medicine including the genetics of pneumothorax.
Dr Matthew Mason
Dr Matt Mason, Director of Studies in Physiology at St Catharine's, also holds the position of University Physiologist, taking a central role in co-ordinating the teaching, examining and practical classes for the physiology courses taught within the University. He currently lectures to all Cambridge students reading NST 1A Physiology of Organisms and NST 1B Physiology, so he is very much involved in the Natural Science physiology courses. Matt's research interests include the structure, function and evolution of the middle ear apparatus in vertebrates: how do the smallest bones in the body work, and how do differences in their structure reflect the ecology and environment of the animals that possesses them? He is particularly interested in the hearing of subterranean mammals such as moles and mole-rats, and has even travelled to Namibia in search of the rare golden mole! Matt is the physiology supervisor for most or all of our Natural Science students, where he uses his experience in comparative physiology to draw links between how different species work. He also works with the medical and veterinary students at St Catharine's.
Professor Nick Morrell
Professor Nick Morrell is our Director of Studies in Clinical Medicine. He is the British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiopulmonary Medicine, in the Department of Medicine at the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine and the Research Director of the National Pulmonary Hypertension service at Papworth Hospital. He runs a research laboratory in the Department of Medicine at Addenbrooke's Hospital studying the genetics and molecular basis of rare but important cardiovascular diseases, particularly pulmonary arterial hypertension, and is developing new treatments for these conditions.
Dr Jerome Neufeld
Dr Jerome Neufeld is Director of Studies in Physics at St Catharine’s and is a University Lecturer at the BP Institute, jointly appointed between the Department of Earth Sciences and the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. His research focuses on fluid dynamical processes within the Earth, including the geological storage of carbon dioxide, the solidification and melting of ice in the polar oceans, the emplacement and solidification of magma chambers, the growth of the Earth’s inner core, and the flow of the Earth’s crust on geological timescales. His approach is to combine physical models with analogue laboratory experiments to elucidate the key processes in these diverse settings.
Dr Philip Oliver
Dr Philip Oliver is Director of Studies in Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics. His research is on the recombination and repair of DNA using the bacterium E.coli as a model system. Phil is involved in a wide range of College activities, and supervises our students in 1A Biology of Cells and 1B Cell & Developmental Biology.
Professor John Pyle
Professor John Pyle's research involves the use of state-of-the-art numerical models, run on supercomputers, to study the processes controlling the present state of the atmosphere and its evolution. Particular problems being tackled include the rapid depletion of ozone found recently in the polar spring, the so-called 'ozone hole', the changing oxidizing capacity of the troposphere (the ability of the troposphere to cleanse itself of pollution) and the development of lightweight gas chromatography instruments to measure halocarbons, as deployed from balloons and high-flying research aircraft.
Dr Fátima Santos
Dr Fátima Santos is responsible for supervision of Biology of Cells and Cell & Developmental Biology. She is a Senior Research Scientist at the Laboratory of Developmental Genetics and Imprinting, Babraham Institute, where for the past 10 years she has been investigating the dynamics of epigenetic changes in mammalian development, particularly the characterization of chromatin remodelling upon fertilization and following somatic nuclear transfer. Before coming to Cambridge she was an Auxiliary Professor at the Zoology and Anthropology Department, University of Porto, Portugal. She is principally interested in the epigenotype at different developmental stages, investigating its dynamics, and possible mechanistic links between the different chromatin and DNA modifications involved. Results from these studies suggest mechanistic links between DNA methylation and histone modifications in early mammalian development with exciting potential for understanding cell fate and plasticity and possible implications for future therapeutic applications.
Dr Robert Smith
Dr Robert Smith is a Royal Society University Research Fellow at the Cavendish Laboratory. His research broadly concerns the study of many-body quantum phenomena using ultracold gases. For example, his recent work concerned some of the first experiments on ultracold atoms trapped in a textbook-like box potential. He is Director of Studies for part II and part III Physics and also supervises 1B Physics.
Professor William Sutherland
Professor Bill Sutherland holds the Miriam Rothschild Chair of Conservation Biology in the Zoology Department and is a professorial Fellow in the College. He has written seven books and edited another five. He started as a birdwatcher and his main research interest has been in combining field observations of behaviour with theoretical models to predict the consequences of environmental change, such as changes in agricultural practice and climate change. His main current interests involve collaborating with policy makers to improve global conservation practice. This includes identifying environmental issues that have attracted insufficient attention using horizon scanning, collaborating with practitioners to identify the key knowledge gaps and establishing evidence-based conservation as a standard approach. He regularly provides advice to government and practitioners. He teaches ecology and conservation biology. He also teaches on the Masters in Public Policy and Masters in Conservation Leadership courses.
Dr Sergei Taraskin
Dr Sergei Taraskin is overall Director of Studies in NST IA (physical option), Director of Studies in Maths for NST students, Director of Studies in Physics IA and Director of Studies in Computer Science. By education and at heart, he is a theoretical physicist. Educated in Moscow and working in Cambridge since 1993, Sergei's main research interests lie in the areas of non-equilibrium statistical physics and complex systems. He supervises many of our natural science students in their various mathematics options.
Professor Dame Jean Thomas
Professor Dame Jean Thomas is Emeritus Professor of Macromolecular Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge. Her research group is studying the structure of chromatin (the complex of proteins and DNA that constitutes chromosomes) and its role in the repression and activation of genes. Prof. Thomas is the first female Master of St Catharine's College, as well as Biological Secretary and Vice-President of the Royal Society.
Dr Peter Wothers
Dr Peter Wothers is a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Chemistry, lecturing to the first, second and third year undergraduate students. He has co-authored a number of popular undergraduate textbooks including Why Chemical Reactions Happen, Chemical Structure and Reactivity and Organic Chemistry. Peter has made a number of TV and radio appearances, most recently giving the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures on the BBC (2012). Peter is heavily involved in both the National and International Chemistry Olympiad competitions, and also initiated the successful Cambridge Chemistry Challenge, supported by the College. Peter is Director of Studies in Chemistry for St Catharine's, and supervises many of our Chemistry students. In 2014 he was awarded an MBE for Services to Chemistry.
Hi there, we’re Becky and Freya, two second year Bio NatScis at St Catharine’s. We think Natural Sciences at Catz is great and we know that you would too! The course itself is certainly challenging but also varied and rewarding, especially with the support that Catz gives us. St Catharine’s is a very strong college for NatSci, with some of the lecturers supervising you in first year, which is a huge advantage. The supervisors here are all very supportive and committed, often willing to go the extra mile to help solve problems you had with the lectures and frequently helping students find summer work and placements. Catz also gives you a lot of support and advice to help you manage a challenging degree alongside enjoying your time in Cambridge. You have a tutor in charge of your welfare but you also get college parents, one of which will be a second year doing your subject, who can help if you want to talk about your work or anything else that’s worrying you. Catz also has a very strong NatSci contingent every year – around 25 students (including bio and phys), so there are plenty of people to walk to lectures with and to share essays and discuss revision with before exams, so it’s much less stressful than tackling a subject alone! The John Ray Society is the Catz NatSci society and has loads of social events, talks by outside speakers and opportunities to talk to NatScis in other years about modules, internships and placements. All first year NatScis are automatically members and it’s a really good way to meet all the other scientists in college. Catz also has two great libraries which have all the books you’ll need for first year. Overall we think St Catharine’s is a lovely place to be and would really recommend it to anybody applying for Natural Sciences.
Freya Curtis and Becky Martin