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Royal Society announces 2020 winners of prestigious medals and awards

04 August 2020

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 (4 August 2020). The annual prizes celebrate exceptional researchers and outstanding contributions to science across a wide array of fields.  This year also sees the inaugural David Attenborough Award and Lecture, which recognises Professor Alice Roberts for her outstanding contributions to public engagement.

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.”

The full list of 2020 winners and their award citations:

Premier awards

Copley Medal

Alan Fersht FMedSci FRS, University of Cambridge

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.

Bakerian Medal and Lecture

Professor Victoria Kaspi CC FRS, McGill University

Her research focused on neutron stars and their utility for constraining basic physics. More recently, she has also made fundamental discoveries on Fast Radio Bursts.

Croonian Medal and Lecture

Professor Barry Everitt FMedSci FRS, University of Cambridge

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, University of Cambridge

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.

Royal Medal B

Dame Caroline Dean DBE FRS, John Innes Centre

She has elucidated molecular mechanisms underlying seasonal timing in plants, thus discovering fundamental processes of plant developmental timing and the epigenetic basis of vernalization.

Royal Medal C

Ian Shanks OBE FREng FRS, University of Glasgow

He extended knowledge of liquid crystals and applied this successfully to invent novel LCDs. He developed commercial diabetes test strips, which have revolutionised the control and therefore the lives of diabetics worldwide.

Medals

Buchanan Medal

Sir Doug Turnbull FMedSci FRS, Newcastle University

For outstanding contributions to biomedicine particularly in relation to mitochondrial disease, including the development of a method to prevent their transmission.

Darwin Medal

Professor Robert Martienssen FRS, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

For outstanding contributions to genetics and epigenetics, including defining the role of RNA interference in inherited gene silencing and in genomic stability in the germ line.

Davy Medal

Professor Benjamin Davis FMedSci FRS, University of Oxford

For inventing powerful chemical methods that directly manipulate complex biological molecules, enabling elucidation and control of biological function and mechanism in vitro and in vivo, beyond the limits of genetics.

Gabor Medal

Professor David Stuart FMedSci FRS, University of Oxford

For his seminal contributions to understanding virus structure and application to vaccine design, as well as driving the application of engineering and physical science to the life sciences.

Hughes Medal

Professor Clare Grey FRS, University of Cambridge

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.

Rumford Medal

Professor Patrick Gill MBE FRS, National Physical Laboratory

For his development of optical atomic clocks of exquisite precision, of ultra-stable lasers and of frequency standards for fundamental physics, quantum information processing, space science, satellite navigation and Earth observation.

Sylvester Medal

Professor Bryan Birch FRS, University of Oxford

His work has played a major role in driving the theory of elliptic curves, through the Birch-Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture and the theory of Heegner points.

Prize Lectures

David Attenborough Award and Lecture

Professor Alice Roberts, University of Birmingham

For outstanding contributions to public engagement ranging across medicine, anatomy, biology, evolution and archaeology, through lectures, television, books, and other media, as well as her advocacy through her role as Professor of Public Engagement at the University of Birmingham and as the President of the British Science Association.

Francis Crick Medal and Lecture

Dr Marta Zlatic, Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology

For discovering how neural circuits generate behaviour by developing and disseminating definitive techniques, and by discovering fundamental principles governing circuit development and function.

Ferrier Medal and Lecture

Professor Daniel Wolpert FMedSci FRS, University of Cambridge

For groundbreaking 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.

Kavli Education Medal and Lecture

Mr Simon Humphreys, Computing at School

For his transformative contribution to computing education, influencing both national policy and the lives of thousands of practicing school teachers.

Michael Faraday Prize and Lecture

Sir David Spiegelhalter OBE FRS, University of Cambridge

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, University of Cambridge

For his fundamental contributions to probabilistic machine learning.

Rosalind Franklin Award and Lecture

Professor Julia Gog, University of Cambridge

For her achievements in the field of mathematics and her impactful project proposal with its potential for a long-term legacy.

Wilkins-Bernal-Medawar Medal and Lecture

Professor Jim Al-Khalili OBE FRS, University of Surrey

He is a sought-after broadcaster on scientific topics in all media. He is renowned for explaining complex ideas in modern physics in an approachable way, always with a strong sense of historical context. His contributions to televised histories of electricity, quantum physics and work in quantum biology are all noteworthy. His work ranges from very recent history of science to the far longer history of Arabic science.

Awards

Armourers and Braisers’ Company Prize

Professor George Smith FRS, University of Oxford

He is a pioneer and leader in the development of engineering alloys through the invention and application of the three-dimensional atom probe, making profound contributions to basic understanding and industrial applications.

Royal Society Africa Prize

Dr Steven Runo, Kenyatta University

For elucidating pathways for long distance RNA trafficking between parasitic plants and their hosts and identifying and developing transgenic protocol for characterizing and validating candidate host and parasite genes.

Royal Society Athena Prize

Dr Alex Bond and Dr Beth Montague-Hellen, LGBTQ+STEM

For the team's pioneering work to boost the visibility of, and create a network for, LGBTQ+ people working in STEM fields.

Royal Society Mullard Award

Professor Stephen Jackson FMedSci FRS, University of Cambridge

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.

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