200th Anniversary

In 2019 we celebrated our 200th year with a programme of special events in and around Cambridge.

These included the 'Discovery: 200 Years of the Cambridge Philosophical Society' exhibition at the Cambridge University Library (8 March - 31 August, 2019), which featured rarely seen archive material and items from the Society’s fascinating history, which helped turn Cambridge from a scientific backwater into the world-famous centre for research it is today.

Our bicentenary year also saw the publication of The Spirit of Inquiry, a new book on the Society’s history by respected Cambridge author Susannah Gibson, which explores how our extraordinary society helped shape modern science.

We also held a themed two-day meeting entitled “The Futures of Sciences”. Both the exhibition and the two-day meeting were free and open to all – as is our whole programme of lectures.

The Cambridge Philosophical Society Seal, bearing an image of Newton, 1832

Photo: The Cambridge Philosophical Society Seal, bearing an image of Newton, 1832

Cambridge Philosophical Society Blue Plaque at 17 All Saints Passage, Cambridge.

Photo: Cambridge Philosophical Society Blue Plaque at 17 All Saints Passage, Cambridge.

Discovery: 200 Years of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, which runs from March 8-August 31, 2019 at Cambridge University Library, charts two centuries of the Society’s key role in some of the most significant scientific advances of the day, including Darwin’s theory of evolution, Cambridge’s first Nobel Prize winner Lord Rayleigh’s seminal work on waves, and the birth of ‘Big Data’ experiments from the 19th century.

Discovery Exhibition Catalogue

Download a fully illustrated PDF version of the Discovery exhibition catalogue.


Society Timeline

  1. 1819

    Cambridge Philosophical Society Founded

  2. 1846

    New Botanic Garden opens

  3. 1848

    New Fitzwilliam Museum building opens

  4. 1851

    Natural Sciences Tripos starts

  5. 1874

    Cavendish laboratory opens

  6. 1884

    Balfour laboratory for women opens

  7. 1914

    Women first eligible as honorary fellows of CPS

    Marie Curie
    Marie Curie
  8. 1929

    Women eligible to be full fellows of CPS

  9. 1948

    Women first awarded degrees

  10. 1967

    Philosophical Library becomes Scientific Periodicals Library

  11. 2010

    Henslow Fellowship scheme launched

  12. 2019

    Society’s Bicentenary

    Blue Plaque, Saints Passage, Cambridge
    Blue Plaque, Saints Passage, Cambridge


Discover our Journals & Books

From Darwin’s paper on evolution to the development of stem cell research, publications from the Society continue to shape the scientific landscape.


Join the Cambridge Philosophical Society

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Upcoming Events

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The quest for the first stars and first black holes with the James Webb Space Telescope

Professor Roberto Maiolino

  • 18:00 - 19:00 Bristol-Myers Squibb Lecture Theatre

Finding and understanding the nature of the first stars at cosmic dawn is one of the most important and most ambitious goals for modern astrophysics. The first populations of stars produced the first chemical elements heavier than helium and formed the first, small protogalaxies, which then evolved, across the cosmic epoch, into the large and mature galaxies, such as the Milky Way and those in our local neighbour. Equally important and equally challenging is the search, in the early Universe, of the seeds of the first population of black holes, which later evolved in the supermassive black holes at the centre of galaxies, with masses even exceeding a billion times the mass of the Sun. When matter accretes on such supermassive black holes it can become so luminous to vastly outshine the light emitted by all stars in their host galaxy.

Since its launch, about two years ago, the James Webb Space Telescope has been revolutionizing this area of research. Its sensitivity in detecting infrared light from the remotest parts of the Universe is orders of magnitude higher than any previous observatory, an historical leap in astronomy and, more broadly, in science. I will presents some of the first, extraordinary discoveries from the Webb telescope, which have resulted in several unexpected findings. I will also discuss the new puzzles and areas of investigation that have been opened by Webb’s observations, how these challenge theoretical models, and the prospects of further progress in the coming years.

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Every breath you take and every move you make - understanding cellular oxygen sensing mechanisms

Professor Sir Peter Ratcliffe FRS

  • 18:00 - 19:00 Bristol-Myers Squibb Lecture Theatre

The maintenance of oxygen homeostasis is a key physiological challenge, inadequate oxygen (hypoxia) being a major component of most human diseases. The lecture will trace insights into human oxygen homeostasis from the founding work of William Harvey on the circulation of the blood to the molecular elucidation of a system of oxygen sensing that functions to measure oxygen levels in cells and control adaptive responses to hypoxia. The lecture will outline how the oxygen sensitive signal is generated by a set of ‘oxygen splitting’ enzymes that modify a transcription factor (HIF) to signal for its degradation (and hence inactivation).  It will attempt to illustrate and rationalise the unexpected in biological discovery and discuss the interface of discovery science with the development of medical therapeutics.

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