ANU history and achievements

Our history & achievements

Our story

Building blocks

In 1946, Federal Parliament passed a Bill establishing ANU as the country’s national university. The University comprised four founding research institutes, one of which was physics, which continues today as the Research School of Physics.

Testament to the University’s success, these founding institutions expanded over the next 50 years into a broad range of disciplines, including those which now make up the College of Science: astronomy and astrophysics, biology, chemistry, Earth sciences, environment and society, mathematics, physics, and science communication.

The University's illustrious research history continues to contribute to its ranking as one of the world’s top ten institutions for education in environmental, Earth and marine sciences, while placed in the top 50 for a broad range of scientific research areas including physics and astronomy, metallurgy and materials, mathematics and chemistry.

Our scientists change history

Since our foundation, and continuing today, ANU researchers have contributed to some of Australia's biggest scientific achievements.

Sir Mark Oliphant: played a critical role in the first experimental demonstration of nuclear fusion and founded the Research School of Physics at ANU.

Dr Germaine Joplin: contributed invaluable data and analysis to Australian geology as the first academic appointed to research Earth sciences at ANU.

Professor Frank Fenner: oversaw the worldwide eradication of smallpox, introduced the Myxoma virus to control Australia’s rabbit plague, and established Australia’s first research centre focusing on the interaction between resources, the environment and society - the Fenner School.

Professor Hanna Neumann: an internationally renowned group theorist who revolutionised mathematical education in Australia, and was also the first woman appointed to a Chair at ANU.

Professor Susanne von Caemmerer: was part of the team which first modelled photosynthesis, a cornerstone of research into plant physiology.

Professor John Shine and Dr Lynn Dalgarno: discovered the nucleotide sequence, called the Shine-Dalgarno sequence, necessary for the initiation and termination of protein synthesis. John was a PhD student at ANU, and Lynn was his supervisor.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt: awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate.

Professors Susan Scott and David McClelland: made a critical contribution to the global effort to detect gravitational waves, a Nobel Prize-winning discovery. Susan and David shared in the award of the 2020 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.

Professor Graham Farquhar: the only Australian to win the Kyoto Prize—the most prestigious international award for fields not honoured with a Nobel Prize—for his life’s work in plant biophysics and photosynthesis.

Professor Lisa Kewley: the first person in the southern hemisphere to be awarded the US National Academy of Science's James Craig Watson Medal, for her research on galaxy formation and evolution.

Professor Xuemei Bai: awarded 2018 Volvo Environment Prize for her pioneering work on urbanisation, and urban system sustainability in Asia and globally.

Image
Professor Hanna Neumann
Prof Hanna Neumann
Image
Professor Susanne von Caemmerer
Susanne von Caemmerer
Image
Professor Brian Schmidt
Professor Brian Schmidt
Image
Professor Graham Farquhar
Professor Graham Farquhar
Image
Professor Lisa Kewley
Professor Lisa Kewley

Timeline

1946

The Australian National University is established by an Act of Federal Parliament.

1949

Foundation stone is laid for the Research School of Physical Sciences.

1952

Laboratories for the Research School of Physical Sciences, the University's first permanent buildings, are opened.

1957

In association with the Department of Astronomy in the Research School of Physical Sciences, Mt Stromlo Observatory formally becomes part of ANU.

1960

The School of General Studies, inclusive of the Faculty of Science, opens and the first undergraduate students commence at ANU.

1964

The first female professor at ANU, Hanna Neumann, is appointed in the School of General Studies, Department of Mathematics.

1965

The Australian Forestry School accepted its first students as a department in the Faculty of Science.

1967

The Research School of Chemistry and the Research School of Biological Sciences are established.

1971

The Research School of Earth Sciences is created, separated from the Research School of Physical Sciences.

1972

The Centre for Resources & Environmental Studies is established by Professor Frank Fenner.

1973

The North Australia Research Unit is established in Darwin to facilitate research in northern Australia.

1979

The School of General Studies formally becomes 'The Faculties'.

1984

Closely affiliated with the Department of Astronomy in the Research School of Physical Sciences, a 2.3 metre telescope is opened at the Siding Spring Observatory.

1998

The Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring observatories become part of the Research School of Astronomy & Astrophysics.

2011

Professor Brian Schmidt, together with international colleagues, is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for the extraordinary discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.

2013

ANU launches ANUx open online courses, with the first course on astrophysics course taught by Professor Brian Schmidt and Dr Paul Francis.

2015

Professor Graham Farquhar from the Research School of Biology wins the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science for his work on photosynthesis modelling.

2016

ANU scientists, including Professors Susan Scott and David McClelland from the Research School of Physics and Engineering, formed part of an international team who discovered gravitational waves.

2017

Dr Graham Farquhar AO from the Research School of Biology becomes the first Australian to win a Kyoto Prize - the most prestigious international award for fields not traditionally honoured with a Nobel Prize.

2017

The ANU College of Science is formed, incorporating the fields of physics, biology, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, environmental science, earth science and science communication.

2018

Professor Xuemei Bai is awarded the Volvo Environment Prize for her pioneering work on urbanisation, and urban system sustainability in Asia and globally.