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Department of Biology

About Our Department

The Department of Biology is internationally recognized in teaching and research in the biological sciences. Over the past 35 years more than 6,000 students have earned bachelors degrees in Biology from Penn State, and over 400 graduate students have earned advanced degrees with Biology faculty members. Penn State Biology Alumni have contributed immensely to the welfare of our society through their activities including education, public health and services, business, and basic and applied research. The quality of education that we provide Penn State students in Biology has continually improved through innovations in teaching and attracting outstanding faculty and instructors. The research and instructional mission of the department spans ecology to molecular biology and represents by far the most diverse program in the biological and life sciences at Penn State. Our department faculty is housed in seven buildings across the Penn State campus, which promotes the integration of Biology with other units of the university.





A Brief History

The origin of the Department of Biology traces to the unification of the Botany and Zoology Departments in 1967. By the end of the century, four research areas - plant biology, physiology, ecology, and evolutionary biology were flourishing.  Since 2000 neurobiology, cell & developmental biology, infectious disease dynamics, and genomics have emerged as other major fields of excellence within our department. The increased stature of Penn State’s Department of Biology was confirmed by the dramatic increase in the National Research Council ranking of biological science-related departments from the fiftieth percentile in the 1990s to the tenth percentile in 2010. An independent ranking of faculty research stature discovered that Penn State Biology faculty ranked #6 among all biological science departments in the United States.


Faculty who have served as the Department Head of Biology are: Joseph O'Mara (1967-1977), Gene Lindstrom (1977-1988), Linda Maxson (1988-1995), Robert Mitchell (1995-1997), Bill Jefferies (1997-1999), Robert Mitchell (1999-2000), Douglas Cavener (2000-2015), Richard Cyr (2015-2016), Tracy Langkilde (2016-2020), Stephen Schaeffer (2020-2021), and Elizabeth McGraw (2021-present).