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The history of Science and Technology

Science and Technology (ST) was established on 1 January 2011 by amalgamating the following three main academic areas: the Faculty of Science (NAT), the National Environmental Research Institute (NERI) and the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences (DJF). NERI and DJF had already merged with Aarhus University on 1 January 2007 and had been independent main academic areas that collaborated closely with the Faculty of Science.

On 1 January 2012, the Engineering College of Aarhus (IHA) became part of Science and Technology, and changed its name to the Aarhus University School of Engineering (ASE). For a long time, both parties had wanted very strongly to merge the Engineering College with Aarhus University and, over a number of years, the two institutions had built up a strong educational collaboration under the auspices of the Aarhus School of Engineering.

The history of the four institutions up to 2011/2012 is described below.

Faculty of Science (NAT)

In 1908 – forty-six years before the Faculty of Science was established – a private German astronomer offered the Municipality of Aarhus his valuable astronomical equipment if the municipality would in turn set up an observatory and appoint him director.

The offer was accepted, largely due to the importance of an observatory for a future university, and three years later – in October 1911 – the city’s mayor stated at the opening of the observatory that this might be the beginning of a university in Aarhus. The observatory, which is located on high ground in a field near Marselisborg Palace south of Aarhus, was designed by architect Anton Rosen and named after the renowned Aarhus scientist Ole Rømer (1644–1710).

During the years around 1920, i.e. before the University and City Liaison Committee was established, a considerable amount of work had been done in Aarhus to establish a science environment in the city. In this connection, a factory owner with a strong interest in a future university had provided funds for purchasing major collections of scientific specimens abroad with a view to establishing scientific study collections.

Together with existing, smaller collections in the city, the new purchases – zoological specimens and minerals in particular – were to become the nucleus of the Natural History Museum, which was established in 1921 on the top floor of the newly erected school in Læssøesgade. About twenty years later, the museum moved to a separate building in an attractive location near the lake in the university complex.

The fact that it took until 1954 to establish the Faculty of Science, by which time Aarhus University had existed for a quarter of a century, was largely due to a government decision to only subsidise one major faculty at a time. However, by 1953, the Faculty of Medicine had been completed, and the university was therefore able to begin constructing yet another faculty the following year .

Three of the four basic subjects required to form a faculty in 1954 were already available at Aarhus University, as physics and chemistry had been the main basic subjects at the Faculty of Medicine since 1933, and geography was established in 1943 under the Faculty of Humanities. These three subjects were now supplemented by mathematics, and a new building was built for the latter. The mathematics department was built adjacent to the old main building from 1933, but quickly became too small, and a new building had to be constructed. Of course, the same applied to physics, chemistry and geography, which quickly expanded in terms of the number of students and subject areas. In this regard, setting up a faculty meant that, although physics and chemistry continued to play the same role relative to medicine, they no longer merely performed a service function, but were independent disciplines involving teaching and research.

In 1956, two years after the creation of the faculty, the municipality transferred the Ole Rømer Observatory to the Faculty of Science, and a professorship in astronomy was established the following year. A number of other subjects were subsequently added, including geology, the (by now) broad subject of biology, the history of science and computer science, as well as physical education and sport as the latest addition. In 1985, admissions to geography closed and the Department of Geography was gradually dismantled.

Of all the museums located in the University Park, it is not only the Natural History Museum that has close contact with the faculty (because of zoology). The same applies to the Danish Museum for the History of Science and Medicine (the Steno Museum), which originally – as far as the science material at the museum is concerned – stems from the collection established at the Department of Physics in 1956. Specifically related to this collection, the History of Science Department was also established .

The Steno Museum was opened to the public in 1994. In addition to the museums, the area contains the Department of Bioscience’s two thousand square metres of greenhouses in the Botanical Gardens, which can be viewed by the public during opening hours. The five greenhouses dating back to 1970–1971 provide an opportunity to study no fewer than four thousand different types of subtropical and tropical plants. The greenhouses are undergoing renovations at present, but will reopen at the end of 2012.

In connection with the restructuring of Aarhus University in 2011, the Department of Sport Science was moved to Health; the History of Science Section was moved to the Department of Physics and Astronomy and changed its name to the Centre for Science Studies; the Department of Biology became the Department of Bioscience and merged with research units from the National Environmental Research Institute (NERI); and the Department of Molecular Biology became the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics and merged with units from the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences (DJF). The other former science departments changed name to the Department of Geoscience, the Department of Chemistry, the Department of Computer Science and the Department of Mathematics.

Read about Aarhus University’s history.

Faculty of Agricultural Sciences (DJF)

Agricultural and food science research has academic and organisational roots dating back to 1883, when the National Institute of Animal Science (SH) was established as part of the Agricultural Research Laboratory in Copenhagen.

Until 1934, SH was part of the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University of Denmark (KVL), but it subsequently became an independent research institution under the Ministry of Agriculture. During the years 1983–1989, SH moved to the Foulum Research Centre, which was inaugurated in 1984.

In 1994, the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering (SJF) – located at the Bygholm Research Centre near Horsens – was incorporated into SH. SJF was formed in 1978 by an amalgamation of the agricultural tools research centre (Statens Redskabsprøver) at Bygholm and the agricultural technical research centre (Landbrugstekniske Undersøgelser) at Ørritslevgaard on the island of Funen. In 1991, the agricultural department of the Danish Building Research Institute merged with SJF. The government-subsidised tools research began in 1892, was transferred to KVL in 1914, has been based at Bygholm since 1947.

The Danish Institute of Plant and Soil Science (SP), which was the second cornerstone in the formation of the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences (DJF), began operating in 1886 when the Tystofte Research Station was established. Several other research stations followed, and laboratory facilities were subsequently established in Lyngby. The process of centralising SP’s activities began around 1980. Several research stations were abolished, and research was concentrated around the three centres in Flakkebjerg near Slagelse, Aarslev near Odense and Foulum near Viborg. A biotechnology unit was also established at KVL. The administration of SP was moved to the Foulum Research Centre in 1995.

The abbreviation DJF was used for the first time when the Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences was established on 1 April 1997 as a result of the amalgamation of SH and SP, both of which were sector research institutions under the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. DJF was also a sector research institution under the ministry until its merger with Aarhus University. In 2004, the sector research institution – the Danish Pest Infestation Laboratory – merged with DJF.

As a result of the university reform in 2006/2007, which led to a merger between some sector research institutions and Danish universities, DJF became part of Aarhus University as of 1 January 2007. As the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, DJF was one of nine main academic areas at the university until the latest organisational change in 2011, when DJF’s activities were incorporated into Science and Technology.

Prior to this organisational change, DJF consisted of seven departments and a secretariat: the Department of Food Science, the Department of Genetics and Biotechnology, the Department of Horticulture, the Department of Biosystems Engineering, the Department of Agroecology and Environment, the Department of Integrated Pest Management and the Department of Animal Health and Bioscience.

Agricultural and food science research now takes place at the Department of Food Science, the Department of Agroecology, the Department of Animal Science and parts of the Department of Engineering and the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics. In addition to the research centres in Flakkebjerg, Aarslev and Foulum, the university has agricultural and food science research activities at the former Bygholm Research Centre and research stations at Foulum, Askov and Jyndevad.

National Environmental Research Institute (NERI)

The National Environmental Research Institute (NERI) was established in 1989 to promote greater coherence and uniformity within Danish environmental research. The decision was part of the follow-up on the government evaluation of Danish environmental research carried out by twenty-two foreign experts under the Danish Council for Scientific Policy and Planning.

NERI was established by amalgamating five specialised laboratories under the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (the Marine Pollution Laboratory, the Freshwater Laboratory, the Air Pollution Laboratory, the Analytical-Chemical Laboratory and the Centre for Terrestrial Ecology). The microbiology laboratory of what was then the Danish Veterinary and Foodstuffs Directorate was also transferred to NERI.

The structure of NERI still contains traces of these laboratories in the form of sections for Marine Ecology, Freshwater Ecology, Atmospheric Environment, Environmental Chemistry and Microbiology (Analytical-Chemical Laboratory and the microbiology laboratory) and Terrestrial Ecology.

When the laboratories were removed from the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, it was agreed that, within the scope of its grant, NERI should provide a number of public sector consultancy services (monitoring and data centre tasks, international convention work, chemical control and reference tasks, as well as biotechnology tasks).

The Section for Policy Analysis was established in 1990 in direct response to societal needs for interdisciplinary analyses.

In connection with the transfer of the Division of Wildlife Management from the Ministry of Agriculture to the Ministry of the Environment in 1990, the Game Biology Station merged with NERI. This decision was motivated by the close connection between game management and nature management. The current Section for Wildlife, Ecology and Biodiversity grew out of the former Game Biology Station.

In 1996, the Greenland Environmental Research Institute merged with NERI to become the Section for Arctic Environment. This was due to NERI’s interdisciplinary expertise in matters relating to the environment, and the scientific connection between the Arctic environment and global environmental issues.

As part of the general planning of responsibilities in the Ministry of the Environment, a number of tasks and the corresponding funding were transferred from the administrative agencies to NERI during the period 1994 to 2006. This mainly involves tasks relating to nature and environmental monitoring as well as risk assessments performed on behalf of the authorities.

On 1 January 2007, NERI became part of Aarhus University. The integration of sector research at the universities, as well as the university merger, were products of the work of the Globalisation Council, in that the government wanted fewer but larger research institutions in Denmark.

In 2011, NERI merged with the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences to become a new main academic area called Science and Technology. The new departments – the Department of Bioscience and the Department of Environmental Science – are now responsible for research, while work performed on behalf of the authorities remains with the National Centre for Environment and Energy.

Engineering College of Aarhus (IHA)

The history of the Engineering College of Aarhus should be seen in a broad social and cultural perspective. For almost a century, the engineering degree programmes in Aarhus have been a major driving force for regional business development. The range of degree programmes offered and their academic content reflect the history of Denmark’s industrialisation, and provide a detailed understanding of societal history and the business sector’s need for innovation through different periods.

In 1915, the first degree programme in electrical engineering was established in Aarhus at an engineering college by the name of Aarhus Teknikum. Industrial development at the beginning of the twentieth century – with a growing economy based on fine electronics – led directly to the establishment of the new college.

The engineering programme consisted of advanced studies after completing a trade qualification, and differed from the polytechnic degree programmes in Copenhagen by placing considerable emphasis on practical aspects. This focus has been maintained right up to the present-day graduate engineer degree programmes at Aarhus University.

In 1944, Aarhus Teknikum was extended to include a degree in construction technology. There was a massive housing shortage after the Second World War, which resulted in an acute need for engineers who could develop new construction techniques and materials. As it turned out, this situation would gradually change the conditions in the Danish construction industry.

In 1964, a new degree programme in mechanical engineering was established. At that time, Denmark was enjoying a period of economic boom with increased international trade and labour shortage. The new degree programme was designed to match the industrial need for mechanical solutions that could make mass production more effective.

The range of degree programmes offered has since been further increased. In 2004, the Engineering College was able to offer a new degree programme in bioprocess engineering, designed to provide qualified labour for industries such as the growing pharmaceutical industry and the chemical process industry in general.

In 2008, the Engineering College established a new degree programme in healthcare technology. The first students graduated in January 2012 and will be playing a role in handling the major task of creating a technology-based health sector in the future.

From college to university
In 1993, a reform of engineering education in Denmark led to new executive orders being adopted for the engineering degree programmes. This led to the abolishment of the title BSc in Engineering (teknikumingeniør), which required that the student had a trade qualification prior to pursuing further education. The title of Bachelor of Engineering (akademiingeniør), which required completion of upper secondary school before entering the further education system, was also abolished. Instead, a combined degree programme – the graduate engineer degree programme – was introduced by a completely new executive order. At the same time, the Aarhus Teknikum changed its name to the Engineering College of Aarhus.

Merger to guarantee the quality of future engineering degree programmes
Since 1999, Aarhus University and the Engineering College of Aarhus have worked together to strengthen the engineering programmes in West Denmark. In 2007, Bachelor’s degree students (B.Eng) were able to continue their studies to acquire a Master’s degree (MSc.Eng) at Aarhus University for the first time. In 2008, the parties formally established the Aarhus School of Engineering (ASE) as a common platform for BSc and MSc graduate engineering programmes, and technical and scientific research and development. During the period from 2008 until today, the Engineering College has recorded Denmark’s highest growth rate in terms of the number of enrolled students and graduates.

On 1 January 2012, the Engineering College and Aarhus University merged, and the collaboration under the Aarhus School of Engineering was replaced by a single institution. The purpose of the merger is to provide optimum conditions both now and in the future for developing and modernising the engineering degree programmes in accordance with the needs of the business sector. At the beginning of the new century, the role of the engineer in the labour market is changing more than at any other time in history, as growing job complexity, new organisational structures, globalisation and outsourcing of production challenge the traditional role of the engineer.

Engineering at Aarhus University
Since the merger, the engineering degree programmes at Aarhus University have been anchored in two organisational units: a Department of Engineering (ENG), which gathers all research and development activities in the field of engineering, and an Engineering College (ASE), where all educational activities are based.

This structure provides a completely new set of conditions on which to continue the nearly 100-year-old tradition for developing engineering degree programmes based on the needs of society and the business sector.