This period has seen an accelerated rate of development in almost every direction. The reputation of Cambridge scientists had already been established in the late-19th century by Clerk Maxwell and the Darwins among others and was maintained afterwards by J J Thomson, Lord Rayleigh and Lord Rutherford. Work done by their pupils and associates during the Second World War greatly increased this reputation and large numbers of students anxious to use the laboratories flocked to the University and to the growing number of government-sponsored institutions established in the town (which was chartered as a city in 1951). University departments and research institutes were established as new areas of study developed, and with them new teaching courses.

The 1950s and 1960s saw an unprecedented expansion of the University's teaching accommodation. Some older departmental and faculty buildings were replaced - for instance, those for Chemistry and Engineering - and the growing arts faculties received permanent accommodation for the first time, notably in the complex of buildings on the Sidgwick Avenue Site. Development of a huge new regional general hospital south of the city, eventually replacing the ancient Addenbrooke's Hospital in the city centre, provided the nucleus for a wide range of medically related departments and institutes, including a new School of Clinical Medicine. The need for more space than could be made available on the cramped central sites led to dispersal of other departments, notably the Cavendish Laboratory to a spacious site west of Cambridge in the 1970s. The west Cambridge expansion continues today, and the area now houses many facilities including the Computer Laboratory and the Centre for Nanoscience.

Social and cultural activities were not neglected, and in this period a permanent social centre for graduate students and staff - the University Centre - was established with funds provided by the Wolfson Foundation, a purpose-built music school and concert hall was built, again partly from benefactions, the University Library was again extended, the modern art collection of Kettle's Yard was acquired and enlarged, and England's oldest University playhouse, the ADC, opened by the Amateur Dramatic Club in 1855, was leased by the University and refurbished as a centre for undergraduate drama. Such developments as these showed an increasing awareness of the wider responsibilities of the University, both to its own members and to the community at large.

More directly related to its core activities was the development named 'the Cambridge Phenomenon', the rapid and successful growth of science-based industry in and around the city, much of it deriving from research conducted in University laboratories. Crucial in this process was the establishment of the Cambridge Science Park by Trinity College, an innovation which has now grown vastly in size and which has been followed by other similar developments. The University's own Industrial Liaison Office began in the 1970s with the support of the Wolfson Foundation, and has now developed into the Research Office.

Meanwhile the undergraduate numbers were increased after the war by the admission to full membership from 1947 of women students, by the foundation of a third women's College, New Hall (1954, now Murray Edwards College), as well as the foundation of Churchill (1960) and Robinson (1977). More revolutionary steps were taken in the 1960s. Four new Colleges were established to provide fellowships for some of the growing number of teaching and research staff, as well as more places for research students (Darwin, Wolfson, Clare Hall and Lucy Cavendish). Some older foundations originally loosely connected with the University - Hughes Hall, St Edmund's and Homerton - were recognised as Colleges. The older men's Colleges now began to admit women students and appoint women Fellows. Now 'co-residence' is usual, but three Colleges admit women students only - Newnham, New Hall (now Murray Edwards College), and Lucy Cavendish.