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Physics building when it was first built
Faculties and schools_

Our history

Expanding scientific knowledge in Australia for over 160 years
The Faculty of Science is dedicated to the contribution of education and research of the highest quality within a comprehensive range of scientific fields.

Early years

Black and white image showing early chemistry students in the laboratory

Early chemistry students in the laboratory.

Teaching of science in the University of Sydney began in 1852, when the first professors – all based in the Faculty of Arts – arrived. The Faculty of Science itself was established in 1882, when government funding and a substantial bequest from John Henry Challis provided impetus for the University to expand.

Black and white image of the Veterinary Sciences Round House

Designed in 1920, the Veterinary Sciences Round House received the National Trust of Australia Heritage award in 2012.

Fifty years later, there were 353 undergraduates and six professors in physics, chemistry, zoology, geology and physical geography, botany, and mathematics (pure and applied).

By 1982 (our centenary year) we had expanded to include 31 professors, many of whom were in new disciplines. We now have nearly 300 academic staff, and over 4,000 students.

Present day

Man walking through yellow lab in Sydney Nanoscience Hub

Sydney Nano is home to some of Australia's leading research in nanoscale science and technology.

Our diversity of specialisations, the strength of our research, and our extensive liaison with other institutions and industry have positioned the Faculty as a leading provider of science education. A significant level of funded research through the Cooperative Research Centres and the Australian Research Council, amongst other bodies, underpins this commitment.

Major facilities that support our research include:

  • astronomical field stations
  • the Australian Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis
  • the Sydney University Macromolecular Analysis Centre
  • One Tree Island Field Station on the Great Barrier Reef
  • various state-of-the-art spectrometry facilities
  • extensive specialist workstations and database networks, and computer graphics systems.

As well as the range of specialisations offered by our numerous departments and schools, we also offer innovative interdisciplinary programs including the study of:

  • optical fibre technology
  • history and philosophy of science
  • marine science
  • environmental science
  • computational science.

We have also established active collaborative programs and international links with teaching and research organisations. Formal staff and student exchange agreements operate with institutions in the USA and Asia.

Hall of fame

Many of our science alumni have become eminent scientists, who have made huge contributions to science in Australia and internationally. 

  • Sir John Warcup Cornforth
    Graduated with his BSc in Chemistry. Won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1975. 

  • Professor Lord May of Oxford
    Graduated with his BSc and PhD in Physics. Was awarded the Crafoord Prize in 1996 for ecological research. 

  • Professor Ed Salpeter
    Graduated with his BSc and MSc in Physics. Was awarded the Crafoord Prize in 1997 for astronomy research.

  • Professor Bernard Mills AC FRS FAA
    Graduated with his BSc in Physics. Was awarded the Grote Reber Medal for Radio Astronomy in 2006. 

  • Ruby Payne-Scott
    Graduated with her BSc and MSc in Physics. She was the first female radio astronomer.

  • Professor Henry Oliver Lancaster
    Graduated with his BA in Mathematics (plus a number of other degrees from the University). Was Chair of Mathematical Statistics at the University of Sydney and co-founded the Statistical Society of Australia. 

  • Ernest Clayton Andrews
    Graduated with his BA in Geology. Was Government Geologist of NSW between 1920 and 1930, and published many important works on Australian ore deposits and landscapes.

  • William Rowan Browne
    Graduated with his BSc in Geology. Co-founder of the Geological Society of Australia. 

  • Walter George Woolnough
    Graduated with his BSc in Geology. Expert on natural resources.

  • Professor Sir Rutherford Robertson
    Graduated with his BSc in Botany. An eminent plant physiologist, who played important roles in the ARC, CSIRO, and universities across Australia.  

  • William Matthew O'Neil
    Graduated with his BA in Psychology. One of the foremost psychologists Australia has ever produced, he professionalised and expanded the field of psychology.

  • Dr William James (Jim) Peacock
    Graduated with his BSc and PhD in Botany. Outstanding leader in plant molecular biology, winning the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science in 2000. He was Chief Scientist for Australia 2006-2008. 

  • Douglas Mawson
    Graduated with his BSc in Geology. Famous for his achievements in Antarctica, his image was on a previous Australian $100 note.

  • Professor Vaughan Pratt
    Graduated with his BSc in Mathematics and Physics, and MSc. Excellence in the field of computing and mathematics. 

  • Sir Harold George Raggatt
    Graduated with his BSc, MSc and DSc. Co-founder of the Bureau of Mineral Resources, Geology and Geophysics.

  • Las Johnson
    Graduated with his BSc in Botany. Expert in the field of botanical sciences and former Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Mount Annan and Mount Tomah. 

  • Dr Max Whitten
    Graduated with his BSc in Biology. Internationally renowned leader in insect genetics.

  • Professor Jacqueline Goodnow
    Graduated with her BA in Psychology. Honoured professor in the field of cognition and its social basis.