School of Life Sciences

John Maynard Smith

Life Sciences started life as the School of Biological Sciences which was founded in 1965 by John Maynard Smith (usually called JMS).  Originally trained as an engineer (Cambridge), after the Second World War JMS took a BSc in Zoology at University College London where he became a lecturer shortly after graduating. 

His main aims at Sussex were to break down divisions between traditional subjects (e.g. biochemistry, botany and zoology) and to create an informal atmosphere.  JMS argued that a diversity of viewpoints is a key aspect of a rich learning environment for both students and staff. This may help to explain how - despite having little training in Chemistry - JMS took to molecular biology so readily while at Sussex.

JMS argued that research collaboration resembles sex: it requires both proximity and personal chemistry; partners who seem totally unsuitable to outsiders can be very successful.  He stressed the vital importance of a good central canteen in encouraging such liaisons. Many of his own collaborations were also developed while drinking Harveys Best Bitter at the Swan in Falmer.

JMS served as Dean (Head of School) twice (1965-72; 1982-84) and was very active in teaching, even helping on ecology field classes.  In 1985, he retired from teaching and administration, but certainly not from research:  he continued working right up to his death on 19 April 2004 (122 years after Darwin to the day).