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1st year (Part IA)

Preparing for the first year 2019-20: 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.

Please note:  a) Computer Science and Biology of Cells may not be taken together because of a scheduling clash  b) 50% Computer Science Tripos students may not take Earth Sciences for the same reason.  

Experimental Subjects

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

Students without A Level maths will take this option but will take a slightly separate stream during the last 3 weeks of the Michaelmas Term. They will also be required to complete 20-40 hours of self study covering the first 4 chapters of Mathematics for Biological Scientists by Aitkin, Broadhurst and Hladky. Additional materials and practice questions on this content are available here:

It is also recommended that Colleges provide some additional supervisions in order to help to consolidate the self-study material.

If you have a Maths A Level, your College Director of Studies will advise you as to which Maths course to opt for.

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 Chemistry Mathematics, MB
10-11 Biology of Cells, Computer Science Physics
11-12 Materials Science Evolution and Behaviour
12-1 Earth Sciences 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 Bristol-Myers Squibb Lecture Theatre, Department of Chemistry
Chemistry Bristol-Myers Squibb Lecture Theatre, Department of Chemistry

Computer Science

Lecture Room A, New Museums site

Earth Sciences Physiology Lecture Theatre, adjacent to the Department of Earth Sciences
Evolution and Behaviour Main Lecture Theatre, Department of Zoology
Materials Science Bristol-Myers Squibb Lecture Theatre, Department of Chemistry
Mathematical Biology Main Lecture Theatre, Department of Zoology
Mathematics Course A - Cockroft Lecture Theatre
Course B - Bristol-Myers Squibb Lecture Theatre
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 will 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 9th October 2019

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 Biopath Stores, Hopkins Building on the Downing Site (11.00 am - 5.00 pm on Tuesday 8 October). They cost around £11 - 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 £3-£6. 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 calculator  CASIO fx 115 (any version), CASIO fx 570 (any version) or CASIO fx 991 (any version).   Each such calculator must be marked in the approved fashion.

    Standard University calculators, marked in the approved fashion, will be on sale at the beginning of Full Michaelmas Term 2019 at £20 for the fx991ES plus from the Department of Chemistry, Part IA Laboratory preparation room or from the Main Stores in the Bragg Building at the Cavendish for around the same price. You are strongly advised to purchase a calculator at the beginning of term.

    Students already possessing a CASIO fx 115 (any version) or CASIO fx 570 (any version) or Casio fx991 (any version) will be able to have it marked appropriately, at no cost in the Department of Chemistry, Part IA Laboratory. Calculators meeting these criteria can be marked in term time from Thursday 10 October right up to the beginning of the exam period, not just in the Michaelmas 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.