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Fellows Directory

Kenneth Holmes

Kenneth Holmes

Professor Kenneth Holmes FRS


Elected: 1981


Kenneth Holmes is renowned for pioneering the use of X-rays from synchrotron particle accelerators to study biological structures at previously unachievable speeds. This technique is now a pillar of modern molecular biology. Kenneth’s many research results include revealing the structure of actin and myosin — proteins with key roles in turning chemical energy into muscle movement.

The molecular structure of biological samples can be deduced from the diffraction pattern formed when X-rays are passed through them. Kenneth’s calculations showed that X-rays from electron synchrotrons would be much more intense than other sources, allowing much higher resolution structures to be obtained. He founded a laboratory to exploit these insights at the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) facility in Hamburg, Germany.

Kenneth’s awards include the Gabor Medal of the Royal Society, the European Science Foundation’s European Latsis Prize, and the 2001 Gregori Aminoff Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He is currently writing a biography of Nobel laureate Aaron Klug, with whom he worked — most notably on determining the structure of the tobacco mosaic virus.

Professional positions

Emeritus Director of Biophysics, Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Max Planck Society

Interest and expertise

Subject groups

  • Biochemistry and molecular cell biology
    • Biophysics and structural biology


molecular mechanism of muscle contraction


  • Gabor Medal

    In recognition of his achievements in molecular biology, in particular his pioneering analyses of biological structures and viruses, and his development of the use of synchrotron radiation for X-ray diffraction experiments, now a widely used technique not only in molecular biology but in physics and materials science.

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