History, Organisation and Perspectives of Biology at Frankfurt University

Recognised biological research, predominantly as zoology and botany, was conducted in Frankfurt even before the founding of the university. This can be seen by the fact that in 1890 the German Zoological Society was founded in Frankfurt. Additionally, the Botanical Garden, which was also known and visited by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, was established in 1767 near the Eschersheimer Gate—by means of an endowment from Johann Christian Senckenberg. Just as well known are such facilities as the Zoological Garden, which was founded in 1858, and the Palm Garden, which was headed by its first Director Heinrich Siesmayer from 1871. There were already lectures and field trips, for example, in botany by the foundation physician Georg Fresenius. However, true academic research and instruction in biology only took place after the foundation of the university in 1914. The botanical and the zoological institutes were endowed by the Senckenberg Nature research Society and were located on the present Senckenberg Facility.

The first head of the Zoology Institute, beginning in 1914, was Professor Dr. Otto Zur Strassen, who concurrently acted as museum director.Only after his retirement (1934), was the administration of the Senckenberg Museum and the Zoological Institute separated. The first head of the Botanical Institute, from 1914 to 1928, was Professor Dr. Martin Möbius, who was also the director of the Botanical Garden. The two institutes grew rapidly and were the largest institutional units until 2005. Additional units were later added. The Institute of Anthropology and Human Genetics for Biologists emerged from the Institute for Physical Anthropology, which had been founded by Franz Weidenreich in 1928. After the Second World War, an institute for microbiology was also founded. And finally, after 1970, a newly created Institute for the Didactics of Biology was incorporated into the Biological Faculty, as it was called at that time.

Although the division into institutes formally remained the same for many decades, there was a continuous further development and in some cases rearrangement of the teaching and research focuses. In the process, the organismically based subject boundaries (animals, plants, microorganisms) have been increasingly transcended. A reorganisation of the institutes was thus the logical consequence. This took effect on 01 October 2005. Since then there have been three institutes in the Faculty of Biological Sciences: the Institute of Ecology, Evolution and Diversity, the Institute of Cell Biology and the Neurosciences and the Institute of Molecular Biosciences.

The Biology Campus, which is located on the Siesmayerstrasse between the Grüneburg Park and the Palm Garden, was established beginning in the mid-1950s. It is integrated in the Botanical Garden, which is more than 8 hectors in size and which was cared for and headed by the Faculty until 2011. This garden is used for diverse teaching and, additionally, research purposes, and provides regular guided tours for the general public.

Since the winter Semester of 1993/94, eight professors from three institutes have been accommodated in the newly established Biocentre, and the “Niederurseler Hang" (Niederursel Hillside), which in approximately 8 km away in the northwest part of the city, is gradually being developed into the university’s new natural science site (the Riedberg Campus), and where meanwhile institutes for chemistry, biochemistry and physics as well as the Max Planck Institute for Biophysics have become established. The majority of the professors in the biological institutes in the Faculty still teach on the Biology Campus. Individual professorships have long been located in additional facilities in the metropolitan area or in the surrounding area (Biological Didactics in the Sophienstraße, Biology for the Medical Curriculum in the University Hospital in Niederrad, Apiological Research and Science (Institute for Apiology) in Oberursel). The Central Administration of the Faculty was located in the Feldbergstrasse in Frankfurt’s West End in the vicinity of the Biology Campus until September 2008. Currently, the Dean’s Office and the Examination Office are located in the Max-von-Laue-Straße on the Riedberg Campus. Since October 2011, the entire faculty has been located on the Riedberg Campus and is divided between the Biocentre (Institute of Molecular Biosciences and the Dean’s Office) and the Biologicum (Institute of Ecology, Evolution and Diversity as well as the Institute for Cell Biology and Neurosciences and the Department of Didactics), which was completed in 2012.

All of the biological fields were organisationally part of the old Natural Sciences Faculty between 1914 und 1970. At the beginning of the 1970s, the faculties were rearranged and transformed into about twenty smaller units, one of which was the Faculty of Biology. In the scope of the establishment of a Bioinformatics Study Programme, the existing Faculty of Biology and Informatics were merged. However, since 2005, the two faculties have again been separate entities, whereby the jointly established study programme has not been neglected. Since that time the former Faculty of Biology has been called the Faculty of Biological Sciences.

A special feature of our faculty is the increasing diversity and cross-linkage of research and teaching programmes and the opportunities for many contacts and co-operations with other institutions in the Frankfurt Metropolitan Area, such as the Senckenberg Research Institution, institutes of other faculties and the University Hospital, the Max Planck Institutes and the Paul Ehrlich Institute, the Zoological Garden and the Palm Garden, as well with private and governmental facilities and institutions. As a result, despite the concentration on selected focuses, there is an overall large diversity of current problem complexes, and efficient linkage and synergies in the research and teaching programmes. The professors’ activities allow worldwide contacts to research facilities as well as the integration in research operations in the framework of national and international research programmes. Our graduates thus acquire a competitive advantage on the employment market and the prospect of successful entry into professional practice.

In a period of increasing competition, university comparisons by the media and decreasing state and federal resources, our biological institutes increasingly strive to achieve accentuated profiling in research and teaching. In external evaluations performed, e.g., by the Centre for University Development (CHE), by the German Research Foundation (DFG), by the State Court of Audit and by Presidential Quality Management, the Frankfurt University‘s biological institutes are rated as good - in some areas, very good.

Rüdiger Wittig, 12.10.2005, based on an earlier compilation by Bruno Streit from 2004.