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Imperial College Silwood Park celebrates its 75th anniversary

A variety of events and activities are planned over the coming months to celebrate the unique history, culture and achievements of the campus.

Silwood Park has been part of Imperial since 1947. Located in beautiful surrounds near the village of Sunningdale, near Ascot, Berkshire, it boasts around 100 hectares of natural parkland.  

The campus started out as a centre for applied entomology and quickly became a home for pioneering developments in insect pest management. Since then, research has grown rapidly and the campus has developed a global reputation as a centre for excellence in pure and applied ecology, bringing together researchers from across the world. In recent times the research remit has expanded to include evolution, biodiversity and conservation.

Professor Mick Crawley, emeritus professor at Silwood Park, said: “Science at Silwood evolved from insect pest control in 1947, through applied entomology and then to insect ecology. From here, under the inspirational leadership of Prod T.R.E. (Dick) Southwood the work broadened to include all of ecology and evolutionary biology from theoretical to experimental and applied research. By 1990 it was globally recognised as a centre of excellence, attracting visiting experts from all parts of the world. Silwood graduates (Silwoodians) populate science labs and research centres on every continent”.

Over a thousand postgraduate students have been trained at Silwood since its establishment and around half of these have taken a PhD. Past Silwood students have hailed from over 60 countries and graduates have gone to work in almost every corner of the globe. There are usually 200 staff and students working on the campus at any one time. Undergraduate students from the South Kensington campus have the opportunity to undertake fieldwork and final-year projects at Silwood.

Last year saw the launch of Silwood’s flagship centre, the Georgina Mace Centre for the Living Planet. Named after prominent ecologist and conservation biologist Professor Dame Georgina Mace FRS, the centre is dedicated to producing science-based solutions to environmental problems. A new Silwood centre is planned for Autumn 2022, the Leverhulme Centre for the Holobiont, which will work on microbial-multicellular partnerships and will be headed up by Professor Tom Bell.

Professor Guy Woodward, Deputy Head of Department, Life Sciences, said: “Looking forward, we will need to be both clever and nimble to adapt to a rapidly and often unexpectedly changing world and to shape the future research landscape. We have seen huge shifts in societal and scientific priorities within Silwood’s orbit, from the need to understand and predict the next zoonotic pandemic to the impacts of novel pollutants in the environment, and of course we will need to set all of this in the wider context of climate change.

“Silwood is becoming an increasingly multidisciplinary community, not just in terms of the staff and students within the campus, but also their growing collaborations across the wider College and beyond. The Silwood community has both deepened and broadened in its scope and this direction of travel looks sure to continue as we move beyond our Diamond anniversary and head out towards our first centenary – exciting times lie ahead for all of us!”

The 75th milestone will be celebrated with a programme of events taking place throughout the coming months, beginning with the Georgina Mace Centre Biodiversity Debate and the annual Bugs, Birds & Beasts family day out in July.

In Autumn there will be the annual Sir Ernst Chain Annual Lecture, which will be ecology-focused this year. There will also be a launch for the new Leverhulme Centre for the Holobiont.

The flagship Silwood 75th Anniversary celebration will take place in September, and will provide Silwood alumni with the opportunity to recollect their studying days and network with colleagues past and present.

There will also be the opportunity for South Kensington staff teams to hold their away days or events in the Ascot surrounds and learn more about the campus.

Professor Armand Leroi, academic lead for the 75th anniversary celebrations, said: “For decades Silwood Park has been world famous for its ecologists and evolutionary biologists.  In the 20th century its researchers revolutionized ecology and the study of animal behaviour. Today they’re tackling some of the great problems of our time: pandemics, the extinction crisis, and global warming. It is where life on Earth – all of it – finds a home at Imperial.”

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