Dr Richard Henderson CH FMedSci FRS

Richard Henderson is a molecular biologist and biophysicist who is distinguished for his contributions to protein crystallography — a technique that uses X-rays to determine the structure of molecules. Richard was the first to solve the structure of a protein found in the membrane of a cell.

Using X-rays to analyse bacteriorhodopsin, a light-harvesting protein found in tiny microbes, Richard discovered that it was composed of helices. Then, in collaboration with neuroscientist Nigel Urwin, he uncovered the three-dimensional arrangement of the helices within the bacterial membrane by electron microscopy — pioneering the powerful technique’s use to study biological molecules. Their model was published in the journal Nature.

He also studied the digestive enzyme chymotrypsin, contributing to our understanding of its mode of action. Richard has worked at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge since 1973, and was its Director from 1996–2006. His awards include the 1999 Gregori Aminoff Prize, which he received together with Nigel.

Subject groups

  • Biochemistry and molecular cell biology

    Biophysics and structural biology


  • Copley Medal

    For his fundamental and revolutionary contributions to the development of electron microscopy of biological materials, enabling their atomic structures to be deduced.

  • Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine

    No citation available for this award.

  • Nobel Prize in Chemistry

    For developing cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution.

Dr Richard Henderson CH FMedSci FRS
Elected 1983