From zebra finches to CeBiTec – the Foundation of the Faculty of Biology

In 1973, three years after the founding of Bielefeld University, the history of biology in Bielefeld begins with the appointment of the first professor, Klaus Immelmann. With the appointment of the fourth professor in 1976, the Faculty of Biology can be founded, with Professor Dr. Peter Görner as its first Dean. The first intake of around thirty students take up their places in the winter semester 1976/1977. At first, research and teaching still takes place in the Behavioural Research building at Morgenbreede (today Konsequenz). Only in 1977, the Faculty relocates to the new main university building.

  • The building of Behavioural Research: the background shows the main university building, June 1977. From left to right, Professor Dr. Klaus Immelmann, Katrin Vogler, media spokesperson Dr. Gerhard Trott.

    Photo: Gräfenstein
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 01835
  • Professor Dr. Bernard Grzimek visits Professor Dr. Klaus Immelmann in the Callitrichidae Monkey Centre at the Institute of Animal Behaviour of Bielefeld University, 24.8.1984.

    Photo: Manfred Kettner
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 01838
  • Opening of the Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) 223 “Pathological Mechanisms of Cellular Interactions”, 1985: The coordinators of the research centre were Professor Dr. Brigitte Jockusch (centre in white) and Professor Dr. Harald Tschesche (right next to Brigitte Jockusch).

    Photo: Manfred Kettner
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 00890

Professor Dr. Klaus Immelmann made every effort after his appointment to develop the Behavioural Research building and the obligatory animal management. Above all, zebra finches were bred for research purposes. Today, a large number of animals are kept on the campus for scientific observation, including sea anemones, mini pigs and chameleons. From 1974 onwards, scientific research could finally begin step by step. At this time, the staff were based in the Behavioural Research building, which was completed in the same year. In 1977, the Faculty moved to the main university building (apart from the professorial chair for Behavioural Research).

Strong in (interdisciplinary) research

During the Faculty’s founding period, its main areas of study were behavioural research, metabolic physiology (i.e., research on producing solar energy) and molecular cellular biology (including research on molecular genetics). Since the 1980s, these have been joined by other research areas in ecology and genetics, among others. When the Chair in Genetics was created in 1985, this research focus was initially met with great resistance. However, this area has become increasingly important over the course of the last decades, especially in an interdisciplinary context. As a result, stronger partnerships have been forged with other faculties (Faculty of Technology, Faculty of Chemistry, amongst others) culminating in Collaborative Research Centres (SFB).

The opening of the Institute for Genome Research and Systems Biology in April 1999: From left to right, Professor Dr. Alfred Pühler, Gabriele Behler (Education Minister for North-Rhine Westphalia) and Rektor Professor Dr. Gert Rickheit.

Photo: Klaus Halbe
Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 01841

Later, the “Center for Biotechnology” (CeBiTec) evolved out of the Faculty. The Faculty is also significantly engaged with the cluster of excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC). The Faculty also excels in teaching: Apart from courses at university level, it has created several projects to inspire the enthusiasm of school children, such as “Columbus Kids” and “Biologie hautnah” (“biology up close”).