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Waddington, Conrad Hal, 1905-1975 (embryologist and professor of animal genetics, University of Edinburgh)


Conrad Hal Waddington was born in Evesham on the 08 November 1905 and attended Aymestrey House Preparatory School in Malvern Link from the age of nine. From Clifton College, Bristol, Waddington gained a further scholarship to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he took the Natural Sciences Tripos, gaining First Class in both parts in 1926. Early postgraduate years included studies in palaeontology, philosophy, geology, and embryology. He held the Arnold Gerstenberg Studentship in Philosophy in 1929 and gained the degree of DSc in 1938.
Between 1934 and 1945 Waddington was Embryologist and Lecturer in Zoology at Strangeways Research Laboratory, Cambridge (he was made Honorary Embryologist in 1936) and was a Fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge (1933 to 1945). During the Second World War, Waddington worked in Operations Research on photographic reconnaissance and with anti-shipping strikes.
In 1945 there came an offer of a chair of genetics at Edinburgh University, but Waddington declined, feeling his future lay with the new National Animal Breeding and Genetics Research Organisation (NABGRO), established by the Agricultural Research Council to boost post-war food production and originally mooted for an Oxford location. When it was suggested however, that NABGRO (renamed ABGRO, then later ABRO) might be found permanent headquarters in Edinburgh, with Waddington combining the position of chief geneticist at the Organisation (under the directorship of R.G White) with the Chair of Animal Genetics at the University, he agreed. NABGRO took up residence in the Institute of Animal Genetics building on the King's Buildings site to the west of Edinburgh. However a division was to form between the academically-oriented geneticists and the animal breeders which became consolidated in 1951, when the 'genetics section' became the officially separate ARC Unit of Animal Genetics under Waddington's directorship, located in the Institute.
Into the 1950s, the Institute grew into the largest genetics department in the UK and one of the largest in the world, establishing Edinburgh's reputation as a world-class centre for genetics research. Waddington's laissez-faire directorship facilitated a great amount of research in many areas, particularly in quantitative inheritance. By the end of the 1950s though, the research institute had become more and more compartmentalised, with Waddington himself becoming occupied with the setting up of an Epigenetics Laboratory. He also played a major role in the expansion of the biological faculty of Edinburgh University.
In addition to his research and publications, Waddington was involved in many societies and organisations. Waddington believed in the power of science to educate and inform a better future, and his 'systems thinking' approach led him to use biological and evolutionary reference models as a way of analysing issues concerning human population and settlement, as well as the environment. It was partly this thinking which led him to establish the School of the Man Made Future in 1972 at the University of Edinburgh (now Glasgow's Centre for Human Ecology). He also had a lifelong interest in art and architecture, and in 1969 he published a lavishly illustrated work on art and its relationship with the natural sciences, Behind Appearance.
In 1970, Waddington accepted an invitation from the State University of New York to spend two years in Buffalo occupying the Albert Einstein Chair in Science. Douglas Falconer took over the running of the Genetics Department as acting head from 1969 onwards. While in Buffalo, and shortly before his return to Edinburgh in 1973, Waddington suffered a heart attack. A second heart attack outside his home two years later proved fatal, and he died on 26 September 1975.
Waddington had been awarded the CBE in 1958, and had been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1948. He became a foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1959 and of the Finnish Academy in 1957. In 1974 he was elected a Fellow of the Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina. Waddington held honorary degrees from Aberdeen, Dublin, Geneva, Montreal and Prague. He had a long record of publication, from 1929 to 1975, including authorship or editorship of 27 books. Waddington had two daughters, Dusa and Caroline, by his second wife, architect Justin Blanco White, and a son, Jake, by his first wife, Elizabeth Lascelles.

Found in 46 Collections and/or Records:

Manuscripts, typescripts and related correspondence, 1923-1975

Identifier: Coll-41/2
Scope and Contents The material has been divided into two sections:
  1. manuscripts and typescripts of articles and larger works;
  2. correspondence relating to Waddington's publications
Dates: 1923-1975

Material relating to conferences, meetings and visits, 1936-1975

Identifier: Coll-41/7
Scope and Contents Most of the files of correspondence contain original letters from correspondents, as well as manuscript or carbon copies of Waddington's responses.
Dates: 1936-1975

Material relating to 'Significance and Form in Nature and Art: IV Waddington Memorial Conference' held in Perugia, Sala Brugnoli-Palazzo Cesaroni, 19 March 1993, 1993

 File — Box: CLX-A-1234
Identifier: Coll-1461/4
Scope and Contents Contains: a large conference poster; Yolanda's notes for presenting at the conference as well as her notes from other speakers' talks, including some sketch portraits; letters to Yolanda about the conferece; photographs (with negatives)of social events surrounding the conference and of sights around Spello.
Dates: 1993

Material relating to societies and organisations, 1946-1976

Identifier: Coll-41/6
Scope and Contents Waddington was a member of numerous societies throughout his life, many of which were science-related. However, he was also involved with organisations and 'think tanks' with a wide-ranging environmental, societal, political or ethical scope, including the Club of Rome or the Council for Science and Society. Waddington's involvement with other organisations was on a more informal basis, and he also delivered lectures to various societies. The societies covered within this series...
Dates: 1946-1976

Material relating to the University of Edinburgh, 1946-1975

Identifier: Coll-41/8
Scope and Contents This material includes correspondence with the ARC and University boards and committees upon which Waddington sat, as well as material concerning Waddington's lectures at the University.

Most of the files of correspondence contain original letters from correspondents, as well as manuscript or carbon copies of Waddington's responses.
Dates: 1946-1975

Material relating to Waddington's lectures, 1955-1974

Identifier: Coll-41/3
Scope and Contents The material includes: correspondence and lecture invitations, draft typescripts of lectures and research materials. Most of the files of correspondence contain original letters from correspondents, as well as manuscript or carbon copies of Waddington's responses.
Dates: 1955-1974

Notes for 'Genetics Lectures', autumn 1950, 1950

Identifier: Coll-1255/6/6
Scope and Contents Contains numbered pages of handwritten notes as well as a memoranda from Cecil Gordon to Waddington, and Gordon to Beale, about suggested changes and improvements to the teaching of the Honours/Diploma course within the Institute of Animal Genetics.
Dates: 1950

Papers concerning Sang's appointment at the Animal Breeding and Genetics Research Organisation, May - June 1948

Identifier: Coll-1391/1
Scope and Contents Contains chiefly correspondence between Sang, C.H Waddington, the Agricultural Research Council and the Ministry of Supply, concerning Sang's appointment to the Animal Breeding and Genetics Research Organisation.
Dates: May - June 1948