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Prof Volker Sommer
Prof Volker Sommer profile picture
  • Emeritus
  • Dept of Anthropology
  • Faculty of S&HS

Volker Sommer is Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology in the University of London. His research interests centre around the evolution of social and sexual behaviour in primates, biodiversity conservation, rituals and cognition.

He was born in Holzhausen am Reinhardswald, a village situated in the central German forests where the Brothers Grimm collected their fairy tales in the early 19th century. He studied biology, chemistry and theology in Göttingen, Marburg, Hamburg and Berlin. Supervised by Christian Vogel, he received his PhD in anthropology (1985) and his habilitation in anthropology and primatology (1990) at the Universität Göttingen, Germany. During his time as a Heisenberg-Fellow of the German Research Council, he was a Research Associate at the University of California in Davis, USA (1992-1994) and at Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand (1994-1996).

Volker Sommer joined the Department of Anthropology, University College London, in 1996, where he is tutor for the MSc in Human Evolution and Behaviour. Since 2008, he has developed UCL's international strategy as Pro-Provost for Africa (www.ucl.ac.uk/global).

Sommer's initial field studies focused on the eco-ethology of langur monkeys in Rajasthan, India – first, since 1981, as a doctoral student, then as a post-doc. Personal highlights include residing for some years in a Shiva-temple. From 1989, he helped develop a long-term study of white-handed gibbons in Thailand. Here, he lived for several years at the edge of the Khao-Yai rainforest. Personal highlights include being roared at by a tiger from close range – and surviving. In 1999, Volker Sommer founded the Gashaka Primate Project, a research and conservation programme in Nigeria centered around monkeys and chimpanzees (www.ucl.ac.uk/gashaka). Personal highlights include the first ascend of Gangirwal, West Africa's highest mountain, through the montane jungles of it's southern escarpments – thus reliving how 19th century explorers mapped out Africa's white spots. 

Sommer has published 150 articles – scientific as well as popular – and about two dozen books, including novels and poetry. He is a well-known science journalist in German-speaking countries, regularly featured by major magazines and newspapers (GEO, bild der wissenschaft, Spektrum der Wissenschaft, Weltwoche, Neue Zuercher Zeitung, Frankfurter Rundschau, stern, natur, Die Zeit, Der Spiegel, FAZ, Die Welt). As a regular guest on radio and TV shows and science programmes, he has also written and read numerous radio segments and presented TV documentaries. Upon invitation, he has delivered more than 250 scientific and public talks on all continents. His award-winning writings have been translated into English, Walloon, Polish, Italian, Spanish, Hindi, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese.

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