The history of the Faculty of Science runs parallel with that of the University of Leuven, with four major periods:

  1. The Old University (1425-1797)
  2. The University (1817-1835)
  3. The Catholic University (1835-1968)
  4. The autonomous Dutch-speaking Catholic University (from 1968)


In 1425, Pope gave Martinus V permission to establish a Leuven general with four faculties: Artes, Canon Law, Civil Law, and Medicine. In 1432, a Faculty of Theology was added, making the studium generale to medieval concepts a full-fledged university. From the outset, science education was an important component of Leuven University: both natural sciences were studied in the Artes as well as in the medical faculty.

The Artes faculty was the forerunner of the current Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Students were initially trained in the seven 'liberal arts', subdivided into trivium (grammatical-literary education) and quadrivium (mathematics, music, and astronomy). This education was soon transformed into a threefold education in logic, physics, and metaphysics. The master diploma in the Artes gave access to the higher faculties (Theology, Law, and Medicine).

In the early days of the Old University, a number of important scientists stayed in Leuven. Gemma Frisius (pictured) was a mathematician, cosmographer, and medic with international fame. Frisius introduced topographic triangulation and thus laid a solid mathematical basis in cartography. Gerard Mercator, the father of modern geography, was a pupil of Frisius. Rembert Dodoens and Carolus Clusius, founders of empirical botany, also studied in Leuven. Yet another pioneer of modern medicine, Andreas Vesalius, received his basic scientific training in Leuven.

After the heyday of the 16th century, natural science education fell into a crisis. Although the faculty quickly incorporated the scientific innovations into its program, it remained long-frowning with respect to Newtonian physics. It was not until the 18th century that the now obsolete structures of the faculty were adapted to the scientific standards of the Enlightenment. By 1780, education in Leuven was up to standard again and even original research was carried out. Jan Pieter Minckelers discovered a combustible gas, extracted from coal, which he used to light his auditorium. But the political situation made a sustainable new bloom impossible. After the annexation of the Southern Netherlands to France, the Old University was abolished on October 25, 1797.


During the 19 the century, the Faculty of Science gradually acquires a new place in university education. Natural sciences are no longer just a preparation for medical studies. In 1869 six degrees of doctorates were available: mathematics, physics, chemistry, geology-mineralogy, botany, and zoology. In 1900 there is geography and in 1919 the pure and applied chemical sciences.

The Special Schools for Engineers, founded in 1864 within the Faculty on the initiative of a number of Catholic industrialists, were granted the status of autonomous faculty in 1961. The Institute for Agronomy, founded as an independent institute in 1878, was also associated with the Faculty of Sciences from 1892 onwards.

Original research is from the 19th to the explicit task of the university century. The paleontologist and zoologist Pierre-Joseph Van Beneden was a passionate scientist, who published studies on marine biology and parasitic worms. Van Beneden also contributed considerably to the development of the Museum of Zoology. The chemist Louis Henry opened his laboratory for chemistry in 1863, and under his impulse practical and personal research became part of the course. Henry himself did research in organic chemistry. Jean-Baptiste Carnoy set up a laboratory for cytology and also started a practical microscopy course. His successor Frans Alfons Janssens is the discoverer of the crossing-over during meiosis. The geologist Charles-Louis de la Vallée-Poussin studied, among other things, the geomorphology of the Meuse valley, his son Charles-Jean de La Vallée Poussin did original research in mathematics, particularly in the field of integral and differential calculus and prime numbers. His Cours d'Analysis Infinitésimale (originally published in 1903 and 1906) is still being used; the last reprint took place in 2003. De la Vallée-Poussin was also the promoter of one of the most important natural scientists at Leuven University: the cosmologist Georges Lemaître, founder of the big bang theory.


From 1968 the French-speaking department of the Leuven University was transferred to Louvain-la-Neuve. The Faculty of Science gradually moved to the new campus in Heverlee, where all departments are now housed, with the exception of a part of the Department of Biology. Since the 1980s, the range of programs has been expanded with a computer science program, first a scientific and a law degree since 1992.

Currently, approximately 2,400 students are studying at one of the eight Bachelor's programs and the twelve Dutch-speaking and nine English-taught Master's programs at the Faculty of Science. In addition, the faculty also participates in ten master's programs that are organized in collaboration with other faculties.

With thanks to the professors G. Vanpaemel and E. Lamberts


Welcome to the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, one of the oldest universities in Europe. We offer high-quality education based on cutting-edge international scientific research and excellent, wide-ranging student facilities. Leuven is a picturesque historic town, but one that is bustling with life and lives at a student’s rhythm.

Situated in Belgium, in the heart of Western Europe, KU Leuven has been a center of learning for nearly six centuries. Today, it is Belgium's largest university and, founded in 1425, one of the oldest and most renowned universities in Europe. As a leading European research university and co-founder of the League of European Research Universities (LERU), KU Leuven offers a wide variety of international master’s programs, all supported by high-quality, innovative, interdisciplinary research.

Since its founding, KU Leuven has been based in the city that shares its name. Leuven is a pleasant, safe and bustling student town, where centuries-rich history meets cutting-edge science. The university also offers degree programs at campuses in 11 Belgian cities, including Brussels, Ghent, and Antwerp.

Mission statement

KU Leuven fulfills its mission by providing high-quality interdisciplinary research and education with a Catholic signature.

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