Magazine article Times Higher Education


Magazine article Times Higher Education


Article excerpt

Richard Henderson is a molecular biologist and biophysicist and group leader in the structural studies division at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, University of Cambridge. He is noted for his contributions to protein crystallography (using X-rays to determine the structure of molecules). In May, he was announced as the winner of the Royal Society-awarded Copley Medal, the world's oldest scientific prize, for his work on imaging techniques that have helped to reveal the arrangements of atoms in important biomolecules

Where and when were you born?

Edinburgh, July 1945.

How has this shaped you?

Although born in the Edinburgh maternity hospital, I was brought up in the borders in Tweedmouth and then Newcastleton. I'm a Scottish country lad who benefited from the post-war academic selective system. Many of my (intelligent) friends left school at 15 to work. My parents received a £50 grant from the government to encourage them to encourage me to stay on in the education system after age 15, which I did.

What is the significance of winning the Copley Medal?

It means that my area of work, structural biology, and the electron microscopy methods I have helped to develop have reached a wider audience and made a significant impact outside our immediate group of expert colleagues.

Former prizewinners include Albert Einstein, Dorothy Hodgkin and Charles Darwin. Does it give you extra pride to be following in the footsteps of some of history's foremost academics?

The award certainly includes some giants of science, whether or not they were standing on the shoulders of other giants. I'm very proud to be associated with them. I was particularly pleased to note that the 2015 Copley Medal was awarded to Peter Higgs, whose lectures I took in the early 1960s.

Do academics think about awards when doing research, or do they just focus on doing interesting and impactful projects?

Some may think about winning awards. I know of several who have Nobel fever. However, others just enjoy their work. I think of my research as an absorbing hobby that is intrinsically fascinating because it never repeats and is always new.

Do you have concerns about the effect on science research funding were the UK to vote to leave the European Union?

Not so much about the availability of funding, since the same amount of money would be available under different systems. However, science is collaborative and needs a free and open exchange of ideas, methods and techniques. Close collaborations between European laboratories are definitely encouraged by UK membership of the EU. …

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