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1st year (Part IA)

Preparing for the first year 2016-17: General Information

The word "Tripos" is simply the way that Cambridge says "study course". The Natural Sciences Tripos prides itself on being one of the broadest courses of study available to undergraduates studying science. It is jointly run by sixteen Departments of the University and has an exceptionally flexible system allowing you to tailor your time at Cambridge towards the particular subjects you wish to study.

That doesn't mean that you cover them in any less depth - students will achieve the same standard and depth in their final year as graduates from narrower courses elsewhere. You get to learn a lot more besides! If it sounds like hard work, don't be put off. The Cambridge teaching system is very supportive - talk to a few students to find out more.

What subjects can I study?

In the first year, Part IA, of the Natural Sciences you read FOUR subjects from those listed below. You take THREE experimental subjects and one mathematical subject. Most combinations of subjects are permitted but you will not be able to take Biology of Cells AND Computer Science.

Experimental Subjects

Biology of Cells Mathematics*
Chemistry Mathematical Biology (MB)
Computer Science

Elementary Maths for Biologists

Earth Sciences
Evolution and Behaviour
Materials Science
Physiology of Organisms

*These courses assume that you have A level Mathematics (or equivalent). 

Mathematics is usually taken by those taking mainly physical science subjects and if you are taking Physics, you must do this course.   It is run in two streams (A and B) which run simultaneously and cover the same core material. The A course covers less ground and has a lower level of mathematical sophistication than the B course. The B course proceeds more rapidly and at greater depth. In general, the B course may be more suited to you if you have taken double Mathematics at A-level or an equivalent qualification. Both streams include a module on Scientific Computing.

Mathematical Biology is designed to be especially relevant for those studying mainly biological subjects in the first year and beyond.

Elementary Maths for Biologists is designed for students who have not taken mathematics at A Level.  It provides a toolkit of basic mathematical techniques used in biology.

Your College Director of Studies will advise you as to which course to take.

Each of these subjects have their own course website.

The timetable


Lectures are scheduled between 9:00 and 1:00 Monday to Saturdays. All courses are lectured three times weekly, on a two-day cycle. You are expected to attend all three lectures in each subject every week (twelve lectures in all).

Mon, Wed, FriTue, Thu, Sat
9-10 EMB, Physics, MB Mathematics
10-11 Biology of Cells,
Computer Science
11-12 Earth Sciences Evolution and Behaviour
12-1 Materials Science Physiology of Organisms

Location of lectures

The location of the FIRST lecture in the Michaelmas Term for each of the courses is listed below:

Biology of Cells Babbage Lecture Theatre, New Museums Site
Chemistry Bristol-Myers Squibb Lecture Theatre, Department of Chemistry
Computer Science Room 9, Mill Lane Lecture Rooms
Earth Sciences Physiology Lecture Theatre, adjacent to the Department of Earth Sciences
Evolution and Behaviour Main Lecture Theatre, Department of Zoology
Materials Science Physiology Main Lecture Theatre
Mathematical Biology Main Lecture Theatre, Department of Zoology
Mathematics Course A - Bristol-Myers Squibb Lecture Theatre, Department of Chemistry
Course B - Babbage Lecture Theatre
Elementary Maths for Biologists  
Physics Bristol-Myers Squibb Lecture Theatre, Department of Chemistry
Physiology of Organisms Physiology Main Lecture Theatre

Practical classes

You will be expected to undertake practical work in each subject. The subjects vary in the way in which practical classes are scheduled and you will be told more about each subject in either your first lecture or the first scheduled practical class. Practical registration will be done on your behalf by your College - and you should receive an email before lectures start with a complete lecture and practical class timetable. It is important to wait until you know when your practical classes are, before you arrange any supervisions.

Once you have received the email informing you of your practical classes you can go to in order to create an electronic personalised timetable. Here you will be able to select your subjects and ‘Add’ the lectures and practicals. In order to add your allocated practical sessions you can select the subject, click on  ‘Practicals’ in the ‘Module’  box to expand the list, and then ‘Add’  those practical sessions which apply.


Supervisions are small-group teaching sessions arranged through your College. Most supervisions are taught by a member of your College and in groups of two or three. This is your opportunity to go over again material from the lectures and practical classes and clarify any points you are unclear of. Make the most of your supervisions - ask questions and discuss areas that you need further help in. This is your best chance at learning and understanding new things.

Your College Director of Studies should provide you with substantial support in arranging supervisions for each subject you are reading. He or she will also review periodically your performance based on reports made by each of your supervisors. This normally happens once a term.

NST Induction Lecture

At the start of your first term, before any lecture, there is a brief introduction to the Tripos which includes some tips and pointers about how to address the workload and teaching styles for the Natural Sciences Tripos. This takes place on

Wednesday 5th October 2016

in the Bristol-Myers Squibb Lecture Theatre (Department of Chemistry, Lensfield Road):

Session A: 2.00pm for those taking TWO from Biology of Cells, Earth Sciences, Evolution and Behaviour, and Physiology of Organisms.

Session B: 3.15pm for those taking other subject combinations.

Calculators, lab coats and safety glasses

Most equipment and materials for practical classes will be provided free of charge: there are, however, some items which you may need to purchase and you will be advised of these in the appropriate course documentation.

All students reading subjects from the Natural Sciences Tripos are likely to need to buy a University-approved calculator and a lab coat.

  • Lab coats can be purchased from the Part IA laboratory in the Department of Chemistry on Lensfield Road (10.00am - 1pm, 2pm - 4.30 pm on Tuesday 4th October or daily from Thursday 6th October) or Biopath Stores, Hopkins Building on the Downing Site (11.00 am - 5.00 pm on Tuesday 4th October). They cost about £10 - payment by cash or cheque only.
  • Safety glasses are a requirement for certain practical classes and it is recommended that you purchase your own pair. Safety glasses will be available for sale at the same time as lab coats at a cost of about £3. If you are taking Chemistry you should purchase your glasses from the Department of Chemistry.
  • For Natural Sciences Tripos examinations Parts IA, IB, II and III (where a calculator is allowed), you will be permitted to use only the standard University-approved calculators CASIO fx 115, CASIO fx 991, CASIO fx 570 (any versions) which are available at the beginning of Full Michaelmas Term 2016 at £11-17 each from the Department of Chemistry, Part IA laboratory preparation room, or from the Main Stores in the Bragg Building at the Cavendish for £19.50. Your own calculator can be marked as approved (at no cost) in the IA lab at Chemistry.  If you do not already own an approved calculator you are strongly advised to purchase one at the beginning of term.


Further information

All Part IA subjects have web sites - links to these can be found from the Contacts section of the NST website.

Students will also be automatically registered in Moodle, an online learning support environment.