Researchers, technicians, students and support staff responsible for the development of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine have been awarded the Royal Society’s Copley Medal for their rapid development and deployment of a vaccine against Covid-19.
This is the first time in the nearly 300-year history of the Copley Medal that it has been awarded to a team.
As the latest recipients of the Society’s most prestigious award, the Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine Team will join figures recognised for their exceptional contributions to science, including Louis Pasteur, Dorothy Hodgkin, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, and Jocelyn Bell Burnell.
Accepting the Copley Medal on behalf of the team*, Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert DBE, Saïd Professor of Vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said: “It is wonderful to receive this recognition for the team that developed the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine.
“When work started on the vaccine in 2020, we needed to bring together people with complementary expertise to allow us to move quickly and plan many stages ahead. Many people worked extremely hard for a very long time, and winning this prize lets the whole team know how much their dedication is appreciated.”
Other recipients of the Society’s 2022 prizes awarded for their involvement in the Covid-19 pandemic include Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam MBE FMedSci, who receives the David Attenborough Award and Lecture for his public engagement work, and Professor Graham Medley OBE who was awarded the Gabor Medal, in recognition of his team’s epidemiological modelling contributions.
The Royal Society introduced two new annual prizes in 2022, celebrating the work of technicians and those who work to improve research culture. A number of winners this year showcase these wider contributions to the scientific effort:
- University of Nottingham chemistry research technician, Neil Barnes, receives the inaugural Hauksbee Award, in recognition of his role in supporting generations of physical chemists as a research technician, including as a demonstrator on the YouTube chemistry channel, Periodic Videos.
- Dr Diane Saunders, John Innes Centre, is awarded the Rosalind Franklin Award and Lecture, for her mentoring project to empower female undergraduate and early career researchers in plant sciences.
- Dr Mark Richards, Imperial College London, is recognised for his commitment to increasing equity in physics through the development of the UK’s first network of Black physicists, the Blackett Lab Family, with the inaugural Royal Society Research Culture Award.
- The UCL STEM Participation and Social Justice team, is aiming to make STEM more inclusive, accessible and equitable for all young people, and receive the Royal Society Athena Prize.
Sir Adrian Smith, President of the Royal Society said, “On behalf of the Royal Society, I offer my congratulations to the outstanding researchers, individuals and teams whose contributions to our collective scientific endeavour have helped further our understanding of the world around us.
"Science has always been a team game, and I’m proud to see such a wide array of skills and specialisms reflected in this year’s medals and awards.
“From the original ideas that open up new fields, to the team effort that delivered the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, or the vital work of technicians and those opening doors for the next generation of talented researchers – I am proud that we can celebrate outstanding scientific contributions in all their forms.”
The full list of 2022 winners
The Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine Team, for rapidly developing and deploying a COVID-19 vaccine.
Bakerian Medal and Lecture
Professor Andrew Zisserman FRS, for his research on computational theory and commercial systems for geometrical analysis of images, and for being a pioneer and leading scientist in machine learning for vision, especially image recognition.
Croonian Medal and Lecture
Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser DBE FRS, for playing a central role in two of the most important discoveries regarding the nature and perception of plant hormones, and for her contributions to gender equality in science.
Royal Medal A
Professor Richard Ellis CBE FRS, for motivating numerous advances in telescopes and instrumentation, and exploited these facilities to revolutionise the understanding of cosmological evolution.
Royal Medal B
Professor Stephen West FRS FMedSci, for discovering and determining the function of the key enzymes that are essential for recombination, repair and the maintenance of genomes.
Royal Medal C
Professor Geoffrey Hinton CC FRS, for pioneering work on algorithms that learn distributed representations in artificial neural networks and their application to speech and vision, leading to a transformation of the international information technology industry.
David Attenborough Award and Lecture
Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam MBE FMedSci, for his critical role in public engagement during the Covid-19 pandemic as UK Deputy Chief Medical Officer, through national and international media.
Ferrier Medal and Lecture
Professor Richard Morris CBE FMedSci FRS, for greatly advancing the understanding of the physiological and psychological processes underlying memory.
Francis Crick Medal and Lecture
Dr Tiago Branco, for making fundamental advances in the molecular, cellular and circuit bases of neuronal computation and for successfully linking these to animal decision behaviour.
Michael Faraday Prize and Lecture
Professor Monica Grady CBE, for her significant contributions to the field of planetary science, and her dedication and enthusiasm for public engagement, particularly in raising the profile of STEM subjects for young women.
Milner Award and Lecture
Professor Stéphane Mallat, for his key advances in the fundamental principles of wavelets, including theory for audio, image and video processing, his entrepreneurship, and for contributing significantly to advancing the understanding of deep neural networks.
Rosalind Franklin Award and Lecture
Dr Diane Saunders, for her innovative mentoring and training project to support and empower undergraduates and early-career female researchers in plant sciences at postgraduate and postdoctoral levels.
Wilkins-Bernal-Medawar Medal and Lecture
Dr Philip Ball, for his outstanding commitments to sharing the social, cultural, and historical context of science through award-winning science communication in books, articles, and as a speaker and commentator.
Professor Edward Richard Moxon FMedSci FRS, for helping pioneer the field of molecular microbiology; discovering contingency loci in bacteria that facilitate rapid evolution under selection and making key contributions to the development of meningitis vaccines.
Professor Martin Embley FMedSci FRS, for his fundamental, paradigm-changing contributions to the understanding of mitochondrial endosymbiosis and the origins of eukaryotes in a new two-domain tree of life.
Professor Peter Sadler FRS, for pioneering the research field of medicinal inorganic chemistry, "Metals in Medicine", and the design of new metallodrugs with novel mechanisms of action
Professor Graham Medley OBE, for leading an interdisciplinary team of biologists, clinicians, mathematicians and statisticians who provided SAGE with epidemiological modelling expertise concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.
Professor Saiful Islam, for outstanding contributions to the deeper understanding of atomistic processes in new materials for use in energy applications, especially those related to lithium batteries and perovskite solar cells
Professor Charlotte Williams OBE FRS, for her pioneering work developing and understanding high performance carbon dioxide utilization catalysts and implementable processes.
Professor Raymond Pierrehumbert FRS, for his wide-ranging contributions to atmospheric physics, employing fundamental principles of physics to elucidate phenomena across the spectrum of planetary atmospheres.
Professor David Rodney (Roger) Heath-Brown, for his many important contributions to the study of prime numbers and solutions to equations in integers.
Professor Novel Njweipi Chegou, for his work in the fields of pulmonary and extrapulmonary tuberculosis, and his innovative project proposal.
Armourers and Brasiers Company Prize
Professor Iain McCulloch, for making fundamental contributions to the application of materials chemistry to organic electronic applications, with an applied, results-oriented focus, always demonstrating translational impact and commercial potential.
The STEM Participation & Social Justice team, UCL, for their cutting-edge research and development projects which have increased understanding, transformed practice, and led to more equitable participation in STEM.
Neil Barnes, for his outstanding skills as a research technician which have supported generations of physical chemists, and his continued inspiring of future scientists by popularising chemistry online, attracting thousands of fans worldwide.
Professor Graeme Milligan, for his global leadership in pharmacological and translational studies, his successful "spinning-out" of academic research and his longstanding underpinning support for the bio-pharmaceutical industry.
Research Culture Award
Dr Mark Richards, for his inspiring contribution to, advocacy of, and commitment to increasing equity in physics, including the development of the UK’s first network of Black physicists: the Blackett Lab Family.
Rising Star Africa Prize
Dr Khalil Tamersit, for his work on high-performance nanoelectronic devices, and his innovative research proposal.
*Additional quotes regarding the Copley Medal:
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard FMedSci, Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group said, “It is a huge honour for the Oxford COVID-19 team to be awarded the Copley Medal for our work on the life-saving Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, and it is a shining inspiration for us to continue our efforts to improve human health through immunisation and protect the world from future pandemic threats.”
Professor Sir Menelas Pangalos FMedSci FRS, Executive Vice President BioPharmaceuticals R&D at AstraZeneca said: “Thank you to the Royal Society for honouring the AstraZeneca/Oxford team with the Copley Medal in recognition for the discovery, development and manufacturing of its COVID-19 vaccine at an unprecedented scale and impact. Our vaccine has saved over 6.3 million lives with the highest impact of any COVID-19 vaccine in low and lower middle-income countries. It is a phenomenal achievement and testament to the dedication, ingenuity and passion of our teams to do the right thing.”
Find the full list of medals and awards, including their description and past winners.