A timeline


Cornell University is founded by Ezra Cornell.


The College of Agriculture becomes a New York State sponsored institution (predecessor of the current College of Agriculture and Life Sciences or CALS).


William A. Stocking, a dairy microbiologist and founding member of the American Society of Bacteriologists (now the American Society for Microbiology or ASM), is appointed Assistant Professor of Agricultural Bacteriology.


A new building, Wing Hall, is constructed for Animal Husbandry and is located approximately 0.5 mile east of the main Cornell campus.


A new building, Stocking Hall, is constructed for Dairy Science.


James M. Sherman, a microbiologist studying dairy fermentations, arrives as Chairman of the Department of Dairy Science, and serves as Chair for over 30 years.


Sherman forms the Laboratory of Bacteriology, a semi-independent program whose teaching and research deals with more fundamental aspects of the properties of bacteria.


Faculty joining the “Laboratory of Bacteriology include, Brooks Naylor, Harry Seeley, Jr., Eugene Delwiche, Paul VanDemark, and I.C. Gunsalus, all Cornell PhDs. Gunsalus and coworkers elucidated the biological role of pyridoxal phosphate (vitamin B6) in 1944 but he left Cornell in 1947 after a fire destroyed his lab.


Cornell University establishes the Division of Biological Sciences (DBS) in 1964 and the Laboratory of Bacteriology joins, becoming the Section of Microbiology. New faculty joining the Section include A. Jane Gibson, who studied the physiology and biochemistry of photosynthetic microbes, and Norman Dondero, an aquatic microbiologist.


The Section of Microbiology is eliminated from the DBS and faculty are reassigned. Gibson and two others go to Biochemistry, Zahler goes to the Section of Genetics, Development and Physiology. The remaining faculty reform the Laboratory of Microbiology in Food Science.


Cathy Shappell joins the staff as department administrator, ably serving in that position until 2012.


Robert P. Mortlock, Chair of Microbiology at the University of Massachusetts, is recruited to serve as Chair for the newly formed Department of Microbiology. Mortlock, who studied evolution of microbial metabolism, was Chair for 10 years, and retired in 1999.



Stephen H. Zinder is hired as an Assistant Professor. Zinder studies chemical transformations in the environment carried out by anaerobes and microbial diversity.



Stephen C. Winans joins the faculty.


The department moves to Wing Hall, recently vacated by Biochemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology, followed by a phased renovation of Wing over the next seven years. This move allowed expansion of the department, including the addition of James Russell, a rumen microbiologist employed by the USDA and previously affiliated with the Animal Science. Dr. Russell died in 2009.



Susan Merkel is hired as an instructor for the Micro 290 course.


The Department of Microbiology rejoins the Division of Biological Sciences and becomes the Section of Microbiology.



Stephen Zinder becomes Department Chair during a contentious, university-wide review of the Division of Biological Sciences.


The decision is made to abolish DBS while retaining the undergraduate biology major, which includes a concentration in Microbiology.


Joseph Peters, a microbial geneticist working on transposons, is hired in the area of microbial genomics.



Ruth Ley, a microbiologist studying the human microbiome, joins the department.



John Helmann succeeds William Ghiorse as Department Chair.


Lillian Henry is hired as Administrative Manager of the department after Cathy Shappell’s retirement.


The department and the Cornell Weill Institute for Cell and Molecular Biology begin a faculty search in the area: Integrative Biology of the Bacterial Cell.



Carole Rehkugler retires after a long and successful teaching career of extraordinary and dedicated service to Cornell University and the Department of Microbiology.

Joe Peters is promoted to Full Professor, effective July 1, 2015.


Tory Hendry, joins the department as a Research Scientist. Tobias Doerr is hired as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology and the Cornell Weill Institute. 


Esther Angert is promoted to Full Professor, effective January 1, 2017. Tory Hendry is appointed as an Assistant Professor in the Department. Sue Merkel takes on the additional role of Associate Director of Academic Programs for the College, effective January 2017.


Esther Angert succeeds John Helmann as Department Chair.


The Covid 19 pandemic strikes the US. In March, the University shuts down all but essential research on campus. Undergraduates are sent home and classes transition to online only. Patti Brenchley takes a new position in the College of Veterinary Medicine as the Assistant to the Associate Dean of Education and the Assistant to the Director of Veterinary Curriculum.


James Shapleigh and Stephen Zinder are granted Emeritus status, upon his retirement. Marian Schmidt is hired as an Assistant Professor, starting in January 2022.  Esther Angert resigns as Department Chair as she accepted a position as Senior Associate Dean of CALS. John Helmann returns as interim Department Chair.


John Helmann steps down as interim Department Chair. Joe Peters is appointed as Department Chair.