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The pioneering University of Cambridge researchers awarded Royal Society awards and medals in summer 2021

A host of current and former University of Cambridge researchers have been honoured by the Royal Society with awards and medals.

Prof Sir Stephen O’Rahilly and Professor Sadaf Farooqi, from the MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit, receive the Croonian Medal and Lecture, “for their seminal discoveries regarding the control of human body weight, resulting in novel diagnostics and therapies, which improve human health”.

Prof Sir Stephen O’Rahilly. Picture: Keith Heppell
Prof Sir Stephen O’Rahilly. Picture: Keith Heppell

Sir Stephen said: “It is an enormous honour to have our work recognised in this way by the Royal Society, one of the world’s pre-eminent scientific societies.

“The list of previous Croonian Lecturers contains many legendary names and to find oneself on that list is as surprising as it is humbling. I hope that the award of this highly prestigious prize to a pair of physician scientists will help inspire young doctors to bring their natural curiosity to bear on patients presenting to them with patterns of disease that seem to be atypical.

“The rigorous investigation of such patients can provide them with meaningful diagnoses and open up opportunities for novel approaches to their treatment, while also illuminating new areas of human biology.”

Professor Sadaf Farooqi. Picture: University of Cambridge
Professor Sadaf Farooqi. Picture: University of Cambridge

Prof Farooqi said: “I am absolutely delighted that our work has been recognised by the Royal Society. To receive the award alongside my long-standing mentor Stephen O’Rahilly, who taught me how basic scientific principles can be applied to the study of clinical conditions, is a huge honour.

“This prestigious award recognises our work as clinician scientists, the contributions of many team members past and present, our collaborators across the world and the patients and their families who have contributed to our research.”

Dr Serena Nik-Zainal, of the MRC Cancer Unit. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dr Serena Nik-Zainal, of the MRC Cancer Unit. Picture: Keith Heppell

Dr Serena Nik-Zainal, from the MRC Cancer Unit, has been awarded the Francis Crick Medal and Lecture, for improving our understanding of the aetiology - or causes - of cancers through analysing mutation signatures in cancer genomes, work now being applied to cancer therapy.

Prof Anne Ferguson-Smith, from the Department of Genetics, and the university’s pro-vice-chancellor for research, receives the Buchanan Medal for her pioneering work in epigenetics, her interdisciplinary work on genomic imprinting, the interplay between the genome and epigenome, and how genetic and environmental influences affect development and human diseases.

Former Cavendish Laboratory research fellow Prof Michelle Simmons has won the Bakerian Medal and Lecture for seminal contributions to our understanding of nature at the atomic scale. She created a sequence of world-first quantum electronic devices in which individual atoms control device behaviour.

Prof Frances Kirwan, alumna and honorary fellow of Clare College, receives the Sylvester Medal, for her research on quotients in algebraic geometry, including links with symplectic geometry and topology - work that has had multiple applications.

Professor Michael Green. Picture: James Stroud
Professor Michael Green. Picture: James Stroud

Emeritus Professor Michael Green from the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, has earned the Royal Medal A for his crucial and influential contributions to the development of string theory over a long period, including the discovery of anomaly cancellation.

Prof Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell has become only the second woman to be awarded the Royal Society’s prestigious Copley Medal, the world’s oldest scientific prize, for her discovery of pulsars while a research assistant in Cambridge in 1967.

Dr Sjors Scheres. Picture: MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology
Dr Sjors Scheres. Picture: MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology

Also honoured is Dr Sjors Scheres, of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, who wins the Royal Society’s Leeuwenhoek Medal, for his contributions to the development of image analysis and reconstruction methods in cryo-EM. You can read more about his story here.

The Royal Society’s president, Sir Adrian Smith, said: “Through its medals and awards the Royal Society recognises those researchers and science communicators who have played a critical part in expanding our understanding of the world around us.

“From advancing vaccine development to catching the first glimpses of distant pulsars, these discoveries shape our societies, answer fundamental questions and open new avenues for exploration.”

Read more

Sjors Scheres, of MRC LMB, earns Royal Society Leeuwenhoek Medal for innovations in cryo-EM image analysis

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