Royal Society announces winner of world's oldest science prize

05 August 2014

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys KBE FRS is awarded the Copley Medal, believed to be the world’s oldest scientific prize, announced by the Royal Society today (5 August 2014). Jeffreys receives the medal for his pioneering work on variation and mutation in the human genome.

The Copley medal was first awarded by the Royal Society in 1731, 170 years before the first Nobel Prize. It is awarded for outstanding achievements in scientific research and has been awarded to eminent scientists such as Charles Darwin, Michael Faraday, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking.

In 1984 Jeffreys discovered a method of showing the variation between individuals’ DNA, a technique which he developed and became known as genetic fingerprinting. He made the discovery in his lab at the University of Leicester after looking at an X-ray image of the DNA of the different members of his lab technician’s family.

Genetic fingerprinting has since been used to resolve issues of identity and kinship, becoming a formative method used in modern forensic science.

As well as the Copley Medal, the Royal Society has today announced all of the recipients of its awards, medals and prize lectures. The scientists receive the awards in recognition of their achievements in a wide variety of fields of research.

Sir Alec Jeffreys KBE FRS said:

"I am absolutely thrilled to receive the Copley Medal, the Royal Society's oldest and most prestigious award. I am particularly delighted that the award recognises our work extending over three decades into exploring human DNA diversity and the processes that generate this variation, and not just our accidental foray into forensic DNA. It is also very satisfying to see the relatively new field of genome dynamics being given such wonderful recognition."

Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, said:

“It is great news that this year’s Copley Medal has been awarded to Sir Alec Jeffreys. Since discovering genetic fingerprinting back in 1984, Sir Alec’s work has transformed our understanding of human genetics. This award is in recognition of his career-long contribution pioneering science, through his endeavour to unravel the complexity of human genetic variation, and for the immense impact his work has had on our lives through applications in forensics and medicine.”

The full list of Royal Society Awards, Medals and Prize Lectures announced today is as follows:


Copley Medal

Sir Alec Jeffreys KBE FRS, for his pioneering work on variation and mutation in the human genome.

Royal Medals

Professor Terence Tao FRS, for his many deep and varied contributions to mathematics, including harmonic analysis, prime number theory, partial differential equations, combinatorics, computer science, statistics, representation theory, and much more.

Professor Tony Hunter FRS, for his discovery of tyrosine phosphorylation by src protein kinase that revolutionised our understanding of cellular signal transduction.

Professor Howard Morris FRS, for his pioneering work in biomolecular mass spectrometry including strategy and instrument design and for outstanding entrepreneurship in biopharmaceutical characterisation.


Darwin Medal

Professor John Sutherland, for his novel and convincing work on prebiotic chemistry, in particular his solution to the central problem of nucleoside synthesis.

Davy Medal

Professor Clare Grey FRS, for further pioneering applications of solid state nuclear magnetic resonance to materials of relevance to energy and the environment.

The Rumford Medal

Professor Jeremy Baumberg FRS, for his outstanding creativity in nanophotonics, investigating many ingenious nanostructures, both artificial and natural to support novel plasmonic phenomena relevant to Raman spectroscopy, solar cell performance and meta-materials applications.

The Sylvester Medal

Professor Ben Green FRS, for his famous result on primes in arithmetic progression, and his subsequent proofs of a number of spectacular theorems over the last five to ten years.

Kavli Medal and Lecture

Dr Matt King, for his research in field glaciology leading to the first reconciled estimate of ice sheet contribution to sea level.


Kavli Education Prize

Sir John Holman, in recognition of his significant impact on science education within the UK.

Royal Society Pfizer Prize

Dr Faith Osier, for her research on understanding the mechanisms of immunity to malaria infection in man.

Armourers and Brasiers Prize

Professor Ivan Parkin, for the insight, synthesis, development and commercialisation of coatings. In particular inorganic-oxide self-cleaning coatings for windows and anti-microbial coatings to combat hospital acquired infections.

Rosalind Franklin Award

Professor Rachel McKendry, for her scientific achievement, her suitability as a role model and her project proposal to promote women in STEM.

Milner Award

Professor Bernhard Schölkopf, for being a pioneer in machine learning whose work defined the field of “kernel machines” which are widely used in all areas of science and industry.

Michael Faraday Prize

Professor Andrea Sella, for his excellent work in science communication.


Croonian Lecture

Professor Nicholas Davies FRS, for his work on the co-evolved responses of brood parasitic cuckoos and their hosts, the process of co-evolution and adaptation and the extraordinary biology of these unusual birds.

Francis Crick Lecture (2014)

Professor Rob Klose, for his research to understand how chromatin-based and epigenetic processes contribute to gene regulation.

Leeuwenhoek Lecture (2014)

Professor Jeffery Errington FMedSci FRS, for his seminal discoveries in relation to the cell cycle and cell morphogenesis in bacteria which helped to found the field of bacterial cell biology.

Bakerian Lecture

Professor John Ellis FRS, for his ground breaking contributions in the physics of the Higgs boson and his attempts at unifying the fundamental forces of nature through his work at the LHC.

For further information on the Royal Society’s Awards, Medals and Prize Lectures please visit: