Budding Scientist main content.

Budding Scientist

Part of the Darwin exhibition.

At the University of Cambridge, Darwin's interest in natural history blossomed into far more than a hobby. An elite circle of prominent professors served as mentors and role models for Darwin. He became the particular protg of the Reverend J. S. Henslow, a brilliant and charismatic botanist. Darwin called meeting Henslow the event "which influenced my career more than any other."

AMNH Special CollectionsReverend J. S. Henslow

Encouraged by Henslow, Darwin developed a "burning zeal to add even the most humble contribution to the noble structure of natural science." To help him brush up on his geology, Henslow introduced Darwin to Adam Sedgwick, one of Britain's preeminent geologists. Reverend Sedgwick took Darwin on an eye-opening geological expedition through Wales. Darwin recalled, "This tour was of decided use in teaching me a little how to make out the geology of a country"--a skill Darwin would need much sooner than he imagined

Rugenda Brazilian landscape
AMNH Special Collections

The Man Who Walks With Henslow

Darwin's mentor at Cambridge, J. S. Henslow, was known for his popular botany lectures and field outings. "It was obvious that Darwin was Henslow's favorite pupil," a fellow student recalled. "Professor Henslow used to say, 'What a fellow that Darwin is for asking questions!'" The two became so close that Darwin was known as "the man who walks with Henslow." Henslow profoundly shaped Darwin's thinking about the nature of species.

"A Tropical Glow"

After a flurry of studying over Christmas break, Darwin passed his degree exam in January 1831, finishing tenth on a list of 178. He remained at Cambridge two more terms, during which he became obsessed by a desire to travel and began planning a trip to the Canary Islands. "My head is running about the Tropics," he wrote his sister Caroline. "My enthusiasm is so great that I cannot hardly sit still...I have written myself into a tropical glow."