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HISTORICAL RETROSPECT

The Faculty of Biology is one of the newest Faculties of the School of Science at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. It was founded in 1970, along with the current Faculty of Geology and Geoenvironment, following the division of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, formerly established in 1932.

Up to the early 20th century, Βiology-related courses such as Zoology and Botany were being taught in the Faculty of Physics of the School of Philosophy at the University of Athens, in accordance with the contemporary attitudes and beliefs.

Zoology was offered as a taught course for the first time in 1837 by the Emeritus Professor of Natural History, Kyriakos Domnandos, who was the first Professor of Natural History in the newly established Greek State, and one of the main co-founders of the Physiographical Society and the Museum of Physiography (or Museum of Natural History).

   
In 1839, one of the university Chairs was, amongst others, the Chair of Natural History, which included disciplines such as Zoology, Mineralogy, Geology and Botany. One of the first academics to invoke the Greek government’s attention to the Natural Sciences at those times was the Rector of the University, Konstantinos Asopios, who, in his inaugural speech in the academic year 1843 – 1844, called upon the establishment of a new Chair for Mineralogy. The appointment of additional Faculty members in Natural Sciences promptly followed, while new scholars were encouraged and sponsored to conduct postgraduate studies at western European Universities.
   
   

In this context, Hercules A. Mitsopoulos was appointed in 1845 as Professor of Physiography (Physical Geography). Prof. Mitsopoulos was in essence the first Faculty member to introduce Natural Science studies in Greece by teaching Systematic Mineralogy and Zoology for almost half a century. He held this post until 1894 and was hailed as one of the most prominent Greek scholars, rightly regarded as "Father of Natural Sciences in Greece". Renowned for his breadth of knowledge and his multilingualism, Prof. Mitsopoulos was Chairman of the Physiographical Society, co-founder and chairman of the Museum of Physiography, as well as Director of the museum’s Zoology Department.
   

In the early 20th century, after the foundation of the School of Science in 1904, Zoology was taught at the Faculty of Physics by:

(i) Nikolaos C. Apostolidis, who served as Reader and then Professor of Zoology from 1894 to 1919. Prof. Apostolidis directed the Laboratory of Zoology and introduced Systematic Experimental Zoology in Greece,

(ii) Konstantinos A. Ktenas, who in 1912 was elected Professor of Mineralogy and Petrology, served as temporary Professor of Geology and Paleontology (1917-1918), and was Director of the University of Zoological Museum between 1917 and 1923,

(iii) Ioannis C. Politis, who in 1918 was elected Professor of Botany, and during the academic years 1918-1919 and 1919-1920 also taught Zoology, and

(iv) Theodoros G. Skoufos, who was appointed as Professor in the newly established Chair of Geology and Paleontology in 1906. Prof. Skoufos was the first specialized paleontologist in Greece and taught Zoology as a temporary professor from 1920 until 1933.

In 1932, the subjects of Physiography and Geography ceased to be offered by the Faculty of Physics, and were added in the curriculum of the newly founded Faculty of Natural Sciences - the fifth faculty in the School of Science - that formed part of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.

   
In 1933, Georgios P. Pantazis was elected as temporary Associate Professor in Zoology, and in 1937, he was appointed full Professor in the same post. He held this position until 1958, when he was elected Professor of General Biology and took over the respective Chair, served since 1937 by Prof. Thrasyvoulos S. Vlesidis. Prof. Vlesidis was the first Professor of Biology in the University of Athens and founder of the Laboratory of General Biology in 1939. It is worth noting that Prof. Pantazis, during his tenure in Zoology, was also the Director of the University’s Zoological Museum and of the Laboratory of Zoology. During his subsequent tenure in General Biology, Prof. Pantazis was rigorously involved in shaping the Faculties of Biology at both the Universities of Patras and Athens, and was one of the pioneers that founded the University Campus (Panepistimiopolis) in Athens, Ilissia, which lies at the foot of Hymettus Mountain. In fact, in 1970, Prof. Pantazis inaugurated the premises of the School of Science at the Campus.
   

As far as Botany is concerned, it began to be taught as an academic subject in the year 1837, when Karl - Nikolaus Fraas, the Superintendent and Phytologist of the Royal Garden in Athens, was appointed as temporary Professor of Systematic Botany. Prior to that, in 1835, and in compliance to his belief in the importance of Physiography, Prof. Fraas had been pivotal in establishing the Physiographical Society.

In 1844, the Bavarian chief pharmacist of King Otto, Xavier Landerer, was appointed as Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Prescriptive Pharmacology and Botany, and from this position taught zealously for over a quarter of a century.

   
In 1850, Theodoros G. Orphanides was appointed as Professor of Botany, and this is considered a milestone in the history of the then Faculty of Natural Sciences. Prof. Orfanides was characterized by his tenacity in exploring the rich flora of Greece and bestowed a naturalist angle in the Faculty’s curriculum during the first period of its formation (1837-1865). He held the Chair of Botany for more than thirty years - until 1882 - and left an important body of work comprising, among others, of numerous scientific reports, catalogues of the Greek flora, and the introduction of foreign plants from abroad, that render him the founder of modern Greek Phytology.
   

It should be noted here that in the 19th century, Botany was a particularly popular science. Indeed in those days, the rare plant species of the Greek land were considered as a part of the National wealth, and the work of Botanists was equalled to that of Archaeologists.

In 1882, upon retirement of Prof. Orphanides, the former Professor of Medicine, Theodoros Afentoulis, took over the teaching of Pharmacology and Botany until 1892, the year that Professor Spyridon Miliarakis succeeded him. Prof. Miliarakis introduced Systematic Phytology in Greece and established the Laboratory of Experimental Phytology.

At the beginning of the 20th century, in 1918, Ioannis C. Politis was appointed as Professor of Botany and also taught Zoology for the first two years of his tenure. From 1923 to 1957, Prof. Politis became the Director of the Museum of Phytology and attended the registration and classification of its flora collection. He also contributed to the creation of the first collection of thalloid plants of Greece.

In 1942, Charalambos A. Diapoulis became Professor of Phytogeography and Systematic Botany and remained in this position until 1967. In the mid-50’s, Prof. Diapoulis contributed to the classification of approximately 800 plant species and subspecies of Mount Parnitha, which is located in close proximity to the city of Athens.

During the ‘60s, there was a worldwide fervour in the development of Earth (geological) and Life (biological) Sciences. In full accordance to the spirit of the times, the renowned Professors M. Mitsopoulos, C. A. Diapoulis and P. Psarianos, prompted by the Professor of Biology and Dean of the School of Sciences, G. P. Pantazis, propose in 1967 the modernization of the academic curriculum and the division of Natural Sciences into its two founding components: Biology and Geology. This resulted in the division of the Faculty of Natural Sciences into the Faculties of Biology and Geology that came into effect in the academic year 1970-1971.

The newly formed Faculty of Biology was divided into several Chairs: that of General Biology held by Prof. Georgios P. Pantazis, General Botany held by Prof. Konstantinos A. Mitrakos, Zoology held by Prof. Vasileios-Kleitos G. Kiortsis, and Systematic Botany held by Prof. Konstantinos T. Anagnostidis. The aforementioned Professors and their teams laid the foundations for current research and education in the Faculty of Biology.

   
After the retirement of Prof. G. Pantazis in 1971, Prof. Fotis K. Kafatos was invited from Harvard University to fill the position. Professor Kafatos accepted the Chair of General Biology and served until 1981. During his 10-year tenure in the Faculty of Biology, Prof. Kafatos undertook a major initiative in organizing and uplifting the Faculty, both in numerous research directions and in the academic studies program. In doing so, he successfully summoned a number of scientists who, in later years, adopted a pivotal role in the further development of the Faculty. Upon his resignation in 1981 to move on to new challenges, Prof. Theoharis Patargias succeeded F. Kafatos in superintending the Laboratory of Biology.
   

During the ‘70s, the Faculty of Biology was housed in buildings scattered in the centre of Athens, i.e., the basement of the Faculty of Law (where in 1967, the first electron microscope of the Faculty was installed and operated), or close to the University student dormitories and maintenance buildings of the current University Campus at Ilissia (Panepistimiopolis). In 1981, the Faculty of Biology was relocated to its current premises at the Campus’s upper east.

 

In 1982, a new Higher Education Act comes into effect and introduces the replacement of Chairs, as functional and administrative bodies, with the newly formed Departments. The first Chairman of the Faculty of Biology, under the new legislation, was Professor Konstantinos T. Anagnostidis. In the same year, the independent Chair of Biochemistry of the School of Science, initially founded in 1978 and served to that date by Prof. Constantine E. Sekeris, was merged with the Faculty of Biology. Prof. Sekeris’ contribution to promotion of Life Sciences was of such magnitude that he is rightly regarded as "Mentor" of Biochemistry in Greece.

 

After the implementation of the Higher Education Act of 1982, the Faculty of Biology was divided into three Departments: a) the Department of Biochemistry, Cellular & Molecular Biology, and Genetics, b) the Department of Botany & Zoology, and c) the Department of Ecology & Systematics. The Act of 1982 was a turning point for the Faculty of Biology in every respect: administrative, organizational, educational and scientific. New faculty positions were offered, the academic curriculum was reformed, research and teaching infrastructures were modernised and new research activities and directions were embarked upon.

In 1991, and in order to improve the quality of academic teaching and research, the Faculty decides upon the division of the Department of Botany & Zoology into two: the Department of Botany and the Department of Zoology. In the same direction, in 1996, the Department of Biochemistry, Cellular & Molecular Biology, and Genetics divides into three separate Departments, those of Cell Biology & Biophysics, Genetics & Biotechnology, and Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, while at the same time, the Department of Zoology is also further divided into the Department of Zoology-Marine Biology and the Department of Animal & Human Physiology. These seven Departments stand as the main administrative and research sectors of the Faculty of Biology to date.

In the ‘90s, the Faculty of Biology substantially reformed its academic curriculum to standards fully equivalent to those of high-calibre institutions abroad and established its first interdepartmental postgraduate course in ‘Oceanography’. Other postgraduate courses, leading to Master's Degrees, were soon to follow.

In 1997, the course ‘Applications of Biology in Medicine’ started as a departmental course, while from 1998 it has been offered as a joint course between the Faculties of Biology and of Medicine of the University of Athens. This course aims to offer knowledge and skills for a career path in Healthcare or for a continuation of studies at the Doctorate level.

Additionally, since 2003, the Faculty of Biology has been offering postgraduate courses in (i) ‘Bioinformatics’, which provides knowledge and skills required at research and professional levels, (ii) ‘Clinical Biochemistry–Molecular Diagnostics’, interdepartmental course organised by the Faculties of Biology, of Chemistry and of Nursing, that offers graduate level knowledge in a particularly dynamic and competitive area of science, as well as practical skills to be implemented in University or hospital laboratories, and at research or diagnostic centres, (iii) ‘Microbial Biotechnology’, providing expert knowledge in Molecular Biology and Genetics, Ecology, Physiology and Biochemistry of Microorganisms, Environmental and Clinical Microbiology, as well as Food Microbiology, and lastly, (iv) ‘Modern Trends in the Teaching of Biology with the Aid of New Technologies’, which offers high-level training in rapidly developing disciplines and subjects pertinent to the field of Education through lectures, laboratory exercises, and multimedia-assisted presentations.

Detailed descriptions of the undergraduate and postgraduate courses taught at the Faculty of Biology can be found at their websites.


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SOURCES: 1) Stephanides, Μ. Κ. (1948). National and Kapodistrian University of Athens – a Millenium (1837-1937), Volume V: The History of the School of Sciences, Issue A’, Athens, National Printing Centre; 2) Stephanides, Μ. Κ. (1952). National and Kapodistrian University of Athens – a Millenium (1837-1937), Volume V: The History of the School of Sciences, Issue B’, Athens, National Printing Centre; 3) National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (2009). Archives of the School of Sciences, 5th Edition, Athens, NKUA Typesetting Centre; 4) National and Kapodistrian University of Athens – School of Sciences – Faculty of Biology (2000). Faculty of Biology 1970 – 2000: 30 years of activities, Athens, Levanis Publishers; 5) NKUA Historical Facts; 6) History Museum of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens; 7) Historical Archive of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens