ANU history and achievements

Our history & achievements

Our story

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.

Professor Hanna Neumann
Prof Hanna Neumann
Professor Susanne von Caemmerer
Susanne von Caemmerer

Professor Brian Schmidt
Professor Brian Schmidt

Professor Graham Farquhar
Professor Graham Farquhar
Professor Lisa Kewley
Professor Lisa Kewley




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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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


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


In what Science magazine names one of the “breakthroughs of the year”, PhD student Ilya Bobrovskiy from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences discovers the origins of the oldest complex organism in the geographic record.


The Prime Minister's Prize for Science is awarded to Professor Susan Scott and Professor David McClelland from the ANU Research School of Physics for their ground-breaking work to detect gravitational waves.


A satellite flyover captures Australia’s largest ever selfie, co-organised by ANU astrophysicists as part of National Science Week.


Distinguished Professor Chennupati Jagadish, a leading nanotechnology researcher from the ANU Research School of Physics, is named president of the Australian Academy of Science.


Oceanographer Dr Adele Morrison from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences wins the Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year at the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science.


ANU enviro-tech startup Samsara Eco launches plans for Australia’s first infinite recycling research and development hub, as well as a global partnership with apparel brand Lululemon to produce the world’s first enzymatically recycled nylon textiles.