The Milner Centre for Evolution building (MCE) opened in 2018 at the University of Bath following a founding capital gift from Dr. Jonathan Milner who started his scientific career at Bath.
A first of its kind in the UK, MCE is a collaborative research and social space that brings Biology, Health and Education into one building. The centre asks big evolutionary questions, trains the next generation of evolutionary biologists, and expands the public understanding of genetics and evolution through accessible educational activities and resources for schools and community.
The long-term vision is to improve public understanding of genetics and the importance of the process of evolution in all of life on Earth. This has direct applications such as informing cancer treatment, improving public health messages, and guiding conservation education.
Research and communication
MCE trains and mentors postgraduates, post-doctorates and undergraduates to become researchers, teachers and innovators.
The centre has a track record of ‘world-leading’ research as defined in the Research Excellence Framework (REF2021). This spans from fundamental research describing a new species of dinosaur, to applied study tracking bacterial epidemics in real time and identifying the ‘holy grail’ of human stem cells.
With additional funding from EET, the centre runs a Milner PhD studentship programme that equips doctoral students with key research and communication skills to solve real-world problems with evolutionary tools.
Everyone at MCE plays a role in taking evolutionary research into schools and the community – from a national Storytelling Science competition for children, to open online course and free resources for teachers, to Genetic Shambles video series to spark scientific curiosity amongst the general public.
“The EET funding has uniquely placed us to be more adventurous and exploratory while maintaining the highest academic standards. The PhD program has, in particular, enabled us to go into areas of outreach and education research that would otherwise be unimaginable.”
Professor Laurence Hurst FRS FMedSci, Director, Milner Centre for Evolution
Start with genetics
Alongside education outreach, MCE is the only research institute in the UK studying learning theory and practice on the topic of evolution literacy.
Despite evolution being on primary school curriculums, many teachers have expressed difficulty in helping students at all levels to understand the abstract concept of evolution. Research from MCE has demonstrated a simple cost-free way to significantly improve students’ understanding of evolution at secondary level: teach genetics before you teach them evolution.
This work is already informing the GCSE curriculum, following an endorsement from the Royal Society of Biology. The same work has attracted a grant from an Islamic scholar to help develop an Islamic textbook on evolution. The scholar identified MCE as the best possible place to research and develop a textbook using the genetics-first approach.
Building on scientific curiosity
Inn the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, MCE in collaboration with the Genetics Society enabled a national survey into attitudes to science.
Initial results revealed a positive trend: compared to pre-pandemic levels, about 30% of the general public have increased their trust in science and 50% want to hear more about science. MCE is uniquely positioned to respond to this opportunity.
The MCE research and outreach team is expanding the range of public engagement activities, including moving into citizen science and textbook design for a global audience.