The history of Nagoya University dates back to May 1871, when Keisuke Ito, a Nagoya local, scholar of herbal medicine and the first Japanese national to become a Doctor of Science, lobbied for the foundation of a school of Western medicine and a hospital together with like-minded friends. That school and hospital then underwent a number of changes to its educational framework, until in 1939 it was established as Nagoya Imperial University, the last of the seven imperial universities throughout the country. The School of Medicine and School of Science and Engineering were also established at this time. In 1940, a Chemistry Department was founded within the School of Science and Engineering, followed in 1941 with a Physics Department.

In 1942, the School of Science and Engineering was divided into two separate schools, and Mathematics and Biology Departments were established within the School of Science. The establishment of this School of Science set Nagoya University upon its path to becoming one of Japan’s most outstanding universities for the natural sciences. The School of Science was further enhanced by the addition of an Earth Science Department, in 1949, and of a Molecular Biology Department, in 1987. The Earth Science Department was restructured into the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in 1992.

In 1995, the focus of the university began to shift towards developing its capabilities as a leader in graduate education. This led to a reshuffle of the Department of Mathematics as well as the merger of the two Physics Departments previously in place. In 1996, the Departments of Biology and Molecular Biology were merged to form the Department of Biological Science, as it exists today.

The School of Science at Nagoya University now covers the entire spectrum of the natural sciences and boasts an impressive line-up of facilities and equipment, among the very best in Japan. The School of Science now comprises Departments of Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biological Science, and Earth and Planetary Sciences. These Departments are variously responsible for running all related laboratories and research centres as well as their respective programs of research and education.

Undergraduate students at the School of Science do not begin their education affiliated to any particular department; instead, for the first year, all students receive a common, inter-departmental education. This first year curriculum includes such basic subjects as mathematics and science, but also encompasses other areas—specialized literacy, in which students learn how to think critically and how to debate, for example, and liberal education subjects in the humanities and social sciences—in order to foster the nuanced intelligence expected of high-level experts. At the end of this first year, students are then allocated to departments based on a combination of personal preference and academic performance. This system is a distinct feature of the School of Science at Nagoya University, based on the concept of late specialization, which allows students to make informed choices about which field to enter based on a firm understanding of the fundaments of both natural sciences and humanities subject areas. It has been adopted at Nagoya University since it enables the development not simply of graduates with expertise in the narrowest of specializations, but rather of leaders confident in fields outside of their own and able to use their breadth of perspective in pivotal roles in research and society.

From the second year onwards, students receive more specialized education from their respective departments of affiliation. Central to this education are exercises conducted in small groups and seminar work, and many hours are dedicated to practical work in the laboratory. Each Department also strives to incorporate the very latest research findings into the education provided to its students. Students are also encouraged to attend classes offered by other departments, thereby further broadening their fundamental knowledge of the natural sciences. By their fourth year, undergraduate students are assigned to laboratories, where they conduct their graduation research projects, based on the application of the knowledge they have built up in the preceding three years. School of Science students are expected to be self-motivating and independent in their attitude toward learning and research.