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History of the Faculty

Natural sciences at the Royal University of Warsaw (1816–1831)

The history of the Faculty of Biology is as long as that of the University of Warsaw, despite the fact that at the beginning of the Royal University of Warsaw in 1816, none of the names of its five Faculties referred to Biology. The natural sciences taught at the Faculty of Philosophy were Geology, Zoology, Botany and Anthropology. The Botanical Garden was opened in 1818 in the Łazienki Park under the supervision of the pioneer of plant anatomy and morphology, Michał Szubert (1787–1860). In 1819, the Department of Zoology of the Royal University of Warsaw was called into existence, organized and directed by the eminent taxonomist Feliks Paweł Jarocki (1790–1865). It was active until the University’s closure in 1831.

Zoological Cabinet, Main School, Imperial University of Warsaw (1831–1915)

Following the University’s closure in 1831, research and educational activities continued under the auspices of the Zoological Cabinet, later incorporated into the Main School of Warsaw (1862–1869) and, after its closure, into the Russian Imperial University of Warsaw (1869–1915). In 1862, zoology was taught by Benedykt Dybowski (1833–1930), later famous for his natural history studies in Siberia. Dybowski was succeeded by August Wrześniowski (1836–1892), a pioneer of protozoology. Among the great names of that period, there is Edward Strasburger (1844–1912), an eminent botanist, a co-discoverer of chromosomes and a pioneer of cytology and comparative and developmental plant anatomy. One should also mention ornithologist Władysław Taczanowski (1819–1890), taxonomist Antoni Wałecki (1815–1897), and histologist Henryk Fryderyk Hoyer (1834–1907).

Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences in the interwar period

During the interwar period, within the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences of the University of Warsaw, several new units were established. In 1916, the Department of Comparative Anatomy and Embryology was founded by Jan Tur (1875–1942), a teratologist and embryologist and a former student of the eminent Russian scientist Pavel Mitrofanov (1857–1920), whose students also included other prospective professors of the University of Warsaw: embryologists Józef Eismond (1862–1937) and Mieczysław Konopacki (1880–1939). The students of Professor Tur were August Dehnel (1903–1962), the founder and the first director of the Department of Mammal Research in Białowieża, Zygmunt Kraczkiewicz (1900–1971), and Stanisław Bilewicz (1903–1962), an embryologist and future Rector of the Academy of Physical Education in Warsaw during the years 1956–1959. The year 1918 saw the formation of the Department of Animal Physiology directed by Kazimierz Białaszewicz (1882–1943), a prominent physiologist and a pioneer of biochemistry. Another notable animal physiologist who was also connected with this Department was Jan Dembowski (1889–1963), later a director of the Institute of Experimental Biology of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN). In 1919, the new departments included the Department of Botany, led by Zygmunt Wóycicki (1871–1941), a botanist, cytologist and embryologist; the Department of Plant Physiology, led by Kazimierz Bassalik (1879–1960), the Department of Plant Systematics and Geography, directed by Bolesław Hryniewiecki (1876–1963). The Department of Cytology was called into existence in 1925, directed by Wacław Brunon Baehr (1873–1939), an eminent cytologist and cytogeneticist. The Polish school of parasitology was founded by Konstanty Janicki (1876–1932).

World War II

During World War II, The Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences bore significant losses. Many students, staff and faculty members passed away or perished, including 12 professors. Many properties were burned, including the Main School buildings, the Museum and the Botanic Garden. Fortunately, the herbarium and the botanical library survived thanks to Alina Skirgiełło, who packed the collections and transferred them to the National Museum in Warsaw.

Biology at the University of Warsaw after WWII

After the war, along with the rapid development of the biological sciences, several new departments were created within the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. The year 1948 saw the formation of the Department of Genetics. In 1953, the Biochemical Laboratory led by Zofia Kasprzyk (1917–2002) branched out from the Department of Plant Physiology. In 1954, the Department of Ecology was formed. At the initiative of Irena Chmielewska (1905–1987), the Department of Biochemistry (1958) was created. In 1960, the Department of Microbiology was formed under the direction of Władysław Kunicki-Goldfinger (1916–1995). The following departments were also formed: Applied Phytosociology (1962), Parasitology (1963) and Immunology (1975). The Faculty of Biology finally emerged from the Faculty of Biology and Earth Sciences in 1969.

The interwar and postwar history of our Faculty is intimately connected with the names of many notable professors: Zygmunt Wóycicki (1871–1941), Wincenty L. Wiśniewski (1904–1958), Kazimierz Bassalik (1879–1960), Marian Gieysztor (1901–1961), Bolesław Hryniewiecki (1876–1963), Marian Rybicki (1905–1967), Zygmunt Kraczkiewicz (1900–1971), Tadeusz Jaczewski (1899–1974), Irena Rejment-Grochowska (1911–1979), Kazimierz Petrusewicz (1906–1982), Henryk Teleżyński (1905–1989), Kazimierz Tarwid (1909–1988), Zdzisław Raabe (1909–1972), Irena Chmielewska (1905–1987), Ludmiła Bassalik-Chabielska (1924–1994), Kazimierz Matusiak (1913–1994), Władysław Kunicki-Goldfinger (1916–1995), Andrzej Batko (1933–1997), Wacław Gajewski (1911–1997), Józef Szuleta (1908–1997), Kazimierz Toczko (1928–1998), Krystyna Izdebska-Szymona (1934–2000), Zbigniew Kwiatkowski (1929–2001), Kazimierz Dobrowolski (1931–2002), Piotr Strebeyko (1908–2003), Janusz Bogdan Faliński (1934–2004), Alina Skirgiełło (1911–2007), Zbigniew Podbielkowski (1921–2012), Władysław Matuszkiewicz (1921–2013), Andrzej Krzysztof Tarkowski (1933–2016), Roman Mycielski (1933–2017), Ewa Pieczyńska (1934–2020).

Starting from the establishment of the separate Faculty of Biology, the function of Dean was successively performed by: Alina Skirgiełło (1969–1975), Irena Rejment-Grochowska (1975–1978), Kazimierz Dobrowolski (1978–1979), Ewa Pieczyńska (1979–1981), Zbigniew Kwiatkowski (1981–1984), Bronisław Cymborowski (1984–1987), Stanisław Lewak (1987–1993), Ewa Symonides (1993–1999), Michał Kozakiewicz (1999–2005), Joanna Pijanowska (2005–2012), Agnieszka Mostowska (2012–2020). Since September 1, 2020, Krzysztof Spalik has been the Dean.

The professors of the Faculty of Biology have also performed important duties in the governance of the University of Warsaw. In the years 1982-1985, Kazimierz Dobrowolski was the Rector of the University, whereas the post of Vice-Rector was held, often for several terms, by Tadeusz Jaczewski, Zygmunt Kraczkiewicz, Kazimierz Dobrowolski, and Piotr Węgleński. During the years 1999-2005, the post of Rector of the University of Warsaw was held by Piotr Węgleński. Among the professors of the Faculty, we have four current members of the Polish Academy of Sciences PAN: Jerzy Dzik, Maciej Z. Gliwicz, Andrzej Jerzmanowski and Piotr Węgleński. Andrzej K. Tarkowski was a member of the Polish Academy of Science as well as French and American Academies of Science, the Academia Europaea and a laureate of the prestigious Japan Prize (2002) for pioneering research on the embryology of mammals. Janusz B. Faliński of the Geobotanical Station in Białowieża was a member of the Italian Academy of Forest Science and was honoured in 1995 with an honorary doctorate from the University of Camerino in Italy. In 1989, Władysław Kunicki-Goldfinger received an honorary doctorate from the University of Wrocław. Andrzej K. Tarkowski became a doctor honoris causa of the Jagiellonian University in 2000 and of the University of Łódź in 2005. In 2001, Janusz Gill obtained an honorary doctorate from the Agricultural Academy of Szczecin. Piotr Węgleński became a doctor honoris causa of the University of Ivanofrankovsk in Ukraine in 2002, and of the University of Santa Maria in Arequipa (Peru), Montenegro University in Podgorica (Montenegro) and the University of Sofia (Bulgaria) in 2005.

The Foundation for Polish Science Prize, the most prestigious Polish science award, was bestowed upon Maciej Gliwicz in 2001. He is also a laureate of the Naumann-Thienemann medal bestowed by the Societé Internationale Limnologique, SIL, and a laureate of the Otto Kinne Foundation prize “Excellence in Ecology”.

In 1989, Władysław Kunicki-Goldfinger participated in the “Round Table” talks in the education and science sections, and Anna Kalinowska in the Environmental Conservation section. For many years, Ewa Symonides was the vice-chair of the National Council on the Environment and was the Chief Environmental Conservation Officer, a post also held by Kazimierz Dobrowolski.