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Evolution on campus

Campus has grown steadily in the last 50 years, and in 2018 it gained an exciting new addition.

The Milner Centre for Evolution
The Milner Centre for Evolution, a state-of-the-art research facility on campus

Near the lake stands a state-of-the-art research facility: the Milner Centre for Evolution, named after Biology graduate Dr Jonathan Milner who gave the University its biggest-ever gift of £5.6 million.

The Centre is the first of its kind in the UK – a hub of world-class evolutionary research. Improving knowledge in this area not only helps us to understand our past by explaining how and why species change over time, but it also impacts on our future by informing how to treat cancer more effectively, to develop better therapies, or to help tackle climate change.

Another key element of the Centre’s work focuses on outreach, in particular to school-aged children, in order to improve understanding about evolution. A PhD study, also supported by Dr Milner, found that children understand evolution better when they are taught basic genetics first.

We’ve developed a MOOC (massive online open course) in Understanding and Teaching Evolution for school teachers, students, parents and anyone interested in understanding evolution. This free online resource begins with the genetics of inheritance and variation, how natural selection and adaptation leads to speciation, followed by macroevolution and geological time, ending with human evolution.

The MOOC followed the official launch of the Milner Centre for Evolution on 21 September 2018, which welcomed 120 local school children to campus. They explored aspects of evolution, including making frogspawn beads, learning how sharks smell, and got up close with owls to learn about how these birds have adapted to their environment.

Outreach and education

Dr Jonathan Milner with Professors Alice Roberts and Matthew Wills and Loki the owl
(Left to right) Dr Jonathan Milner with Professors Alice Roberts and Matthew Wills and Loki the owl

Within the Centre there is a dedicated area for outreach activities, as well as offices, laboratories and a seminar room. Designed with collaboration in mind, all the shared spaces are positioned centrally so that people will pass by each other every time they leave their office. Who knows what ideas will be inspired and problems solved from these chance encounters?

Bringing everyone under the same roof will enable the team to build upon their research, employ more talent, publish more findings and undertake further outreach and public engagement than ever before. As Dr Araxi Urrutia puts it:

“The Milner Centre for Evolution has provided us with a coherent identity to the outside world. Looking to the future, I envisage that it will continue to grow its reputation as a top institution for evolutionary and big data research around the globe, and I am proud to be part of that effort alongside my colleagues.”

Director of the Centre, Professor Laurence Hurst FRS, adds: “By combining pure science, applied science and outreach, we will endeavour to make discoveries and make a real difference.”

Our mission

  • Ask the big evolutionary questions.
  • Find new technological and clinical research applications.
  • Take evolutionary research into the community.