The University Museum is unmistakable with its wide lawn and Victorian architecture. Photographs from the turn of the century show the interior of the main hall to have changed little to the present day. The museum was begun in 1855, built with 30,000 from the University and money from private subscribers. The building consists of a glass roof supported by ornate and naturalistic wrought ironwork made by the best English craftsmen. The columns, made of different types of rocks found in the British Isles, have capitals and bases representing groups of animals and plants. Statues of famous scientists line the walls. Some of the craftsmen who carved the stonework in the museum were Irish; they had also worked on the National Museum in Dublin.

On the same wall as the museum entrance is a large portrait of a dodo and the sad remains of one of these birds in a case. This particular dodo was exhibited alive in London in 1638. On its death, its preserved remains became one of John Tradescant's "natural curiosities", of which more later. In 1755, after many years of neglect, the rotten remains were incinerated. Only a foot and the skull survived.

The museum contains much of interest. Dominating the central area is a cast of the fossil skeleton of an iguanodon. This herbivorous Cretaceous dinosaur was discovered in a Belgian coal mine in 1877. Also in the central area is a huge ammonite, dug up during the construction of the M40 motorway. On the south staircase is a live bee colony.

It is fascinating to think that the museum also contains the room where T. H. Huxley, "Darwin's bulldog", confronted Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, during the great nineteenth-century debate on the validity of the theory of evolution and the alternative story of the Creation in the Bible. During a British Association meeting, the Bishop, nicknamed "Soapy Sam", resorted to sarcasm. Turning to Huxley, he asked whether it was on his grandfather's or his grandmother's side that he was descended from an ape. Infuriated, Huxley replied that he would rather have an ape for a grandfather than a man like the Bishop who used his talents to ridicule serious scientific discussion. The botanist Joseph Hooker was also very influential during this debate in his support of Darwin. By the end of Darwin's life the theory of evolution was widely accepted. Modern research in genetics lends further support to the theory.

At the rear of the University Museum is "Oxford's best kept secret". This is the Pitt Rivers Museum, named after General Pitt Rivers, who was the first person to attempt a methodical and stratigraphical excavation of an archaeological site. The museum is laid out as it was in Victorian times. The vast collection of objects of ethnographic interest includes many of scientific value; for example, there is an arrangement of water-filled glass globes from Scandanavia for magnifying the light from a candle.

Two modern-day scientists of note, Niko Tinbergen and Dorothy Hodgkin, did some of their research in the University Museum.

Niko Tinbergen, a Dutch ethologist, was for many years head of the Animal Behaviour Research Group at Oxford University. His book Curious Naturalists describes in a charming and entertaining way some of the work he did during his long career. Tinbergen's work began with the study of the way a species of wasp, Philanthus triangulum Fabr., finds its home in the sand, and how this species hunts bees to feed its larvae. He did extensive field observations of the black-headed gull. On Tinbergen's arrival in Oxford a colleague pointed out that he had chosen the worst place in Britain to study gulls, Oxford being far from the sea in all directions. In 1973 he won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Konrad Lorenz and Karl von Frisch. The award acknowledged the relevance of ethological research to the study of human behaviour.

Dorothy Hodgkin, chemist and crystallographer, had a long connection with Somerville College. As Dorothy Crowfoot, she was at the college as an undergraduate and returned to Oxford in 1934 as a tutor in chemistry. In 1937 she married Thomas Hodgkin, an African specialist, and they had three children. In her research work, she used X-ray crystallography to study the chemical structure of large organic molecules, and by 1945 she had determined the structure of penicillin. In 1947 she was elected to the Royal Society as one of its first woman members. Her next task was to resolve the structure of vitamin B12, which took until 1956. In 1964 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. She went on to solve the structure of insulin in 1969, and was one of the first to use a computer in such work.