A leading pioneer in the field of protein engineering, Sir Alan Fersht FMedSci FRS, has been named as the 2020 winner of the world’s oldest scientific prize, the Royal Society’s prestigious Copley Medal.
He is one of the 25 Royal Society medals and awards winners announced today, nine of whom are researchers at the University of Cambridge. The annual prizes celebrate exceptional researchers and outstanding contributions to science across a wide array of fields.
President of the Royal Society, Venki Ramakrishnan, said:
“The Royal Society’s medals and awards celebrate those researchers whose ground-breaking work has helped answer fundamental questions and advance our understanding of the world around us. They also champion those who have reinforced science’s place in society, whether through inspiring public engagement, improving our education system, or by making STEM careers more inclusive and rewarding.
“This year has highlighted how integral science is in our daily lives, and tackling the challenges we face, and it gives me great pleasure to congratulate all our winners and thank them for their work.”
Sir Alan Fersht FMedSci FRS, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Chemistry and former Master of Gonville and Caius College, is awarded the Copley Medal for the development and application of methods to describe protein folding pathways at atomic resolution, revolutionising our understanding of these processes.
“Most of us who become scientists do so because science is one of the most rewarding and satisfying of careers and we actually get paid for doing what we enjoy and for our benefitting humankind. Recognition of one’s work, especially at home, is icing on the cake,” said Sir Alan. “Like many Copley medallists, I hail from a humble immigrant background and the first of my family to go to university. If people like me are seen to be honoured for science, then I hope it will encourage young people in similar situations to take up science.”
As the latest recipient of the Royal Society’s premier award, Sir Alan joins an elite group of scientists, that includes Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Dorothy Hodgkin, and more recently Professor John Goodenough (2020) for his research on the rechargeable lithium battery, Peter Higgs (2015), the physicist who hypothesised the existence of the Higgs Boson, and DNA fingerprinting pioneer Alec Jeffreys (2014).
Professor Barry Everitt FMedSci FRS, from the Department of Psychology and former Master of Downing College, receives the Croonian Medal and Lecture for research which has elucidated brain mechanisms of motivation and applied them to important societal issues such as drug addiction.
Professor Everitt said: “In addition to my personal pride about having received this prestigious award, I hope that it helps draw attention to experimental addiction research, its importance and potential.”
Professor Herbert Huppert FRS of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, and a Fellow of King’s College, receives a Royal Medal for outstanding achievements in the physical sciences. He has been at the forefront of research in fluid mechanics. As an applied mathematician he has consistently developed highly original analysis of key natural and industrial processes. Further to his research, he has chaired policy work on how science can help defend against terrorism, and carbon capture and storage in Europe.
In addition to the work for which they are recognised with an award, several of this year’s recipients have also been working on issues relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Professor Julia Gog of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics and a Fellow of Queens’ College, receives the Rosalind Franklin Award and Lecture for her achievements in the field of mathematics. Her expertise in infectious diseases and virus modelling has seen her contribute to the pandemic response, including as a participant at SAGE meetings. The STEM project component of her award will produce resources for Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14) maths pupils and teachers exploring the curriculum in the context of modelling epidemics and infectious diseases and showing how maths can change the world for the better.
The Society’s Michael Faraday Prize is awarded to Sir David Spiegelhalter OBE FRS, of the Winton Centre for Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication and a Fellow of Churchill College, for bringing key insights from the disciplines of statistics and probability vividly home to the public at large, and to key decision-makers, in entertaining and accessible ways, most recently through the COVID-19 pandemic.
The full list of Cambridge’s 2020 winners and their award citations:
Alan Fersht FMedSci FRS, Department of Chemistry, and Gonville and Caius College
He has developed and applied the methods of protein engineering to provide descriptions of protein folding pathways at atomic resolution, revolutionising our understanding of these processes.
Croonian Medal and Lecture
Professor Barry Everitt FMedSci FRS, Department of Psychology and Downing College
He has elucidated brain mechanisms of motivation and applied them to important societal issues such as drug addiction.
Royal Medal A
Professor Herbert Huppert FRS, Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, and King’s College
He has been at the forefront of research in fluid mechanics. As an applied mathematician he has consistently developed highly original analysis of key natural and industrial processes.
Professor Clare Grey FRS, Department of Chemistry and Pembroke College
For her pioneering work on the development and application of new characterization methodology to develop fundamental insight into how batteries, supercapacitors and fuel cells operate.
Ferrier Medal and Lecture
Professor Daniel Wolpert FMedSci FRS, Department of Engineering and Trinity College
For ground-breaking contributions to our understanding of how the brain controls movement. Using theoretical and experimental approaches he has elucidated the computational principles underlying skilled motor behaviour.
Michael Faraday Prize and Lecture
Sir David Spiegelhalter OBE FRS, Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication and Churchill College
For bringing key insights from the disciplines of statistics and probability vividly home to the public at large, and to key decision-makers, in entertaining and accessible ways, most recently through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Milner Award and Lecture
Professor Zoubin Ghahramani FRS, Department of Engineering and St John’s College
For his fundamental contributions to probabilistic machine learning.
Rosalind Franklin Award and Lecture
Professor Julia Gog, Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, and Queens’ College
For her achievements in the field of mathematics and her impactful project proposal with its potential for a long-term legacy.
Royal Society Mullard Award
Professor Stephen Jackson FMedSci FRS, Gurdon Institute, Department of Biochemistry
For pioneering research on DNA repair mechanisms and synthetic lethality that led to the discovery of olaparib, which has reached blockbuster status for the treatment of ovarian and breast cancers.
The full list of medals and awards, including their description and past winners can be found on the Royal Society website: https://royalsociety.org/grants-schemes-awards/awards/