HomeDebrett’s 500 2017Science & Medicine

500

Science & Medicine

Astrophysicist and President, Royal Society of Edinburgh
Leading astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell is the first female president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. While completing her PhD at Cambridge, Bell Burnell discovered pulsars, rapidly spinning neutron stars emitting electromagnetic radiation. This proved to be one of the most significant discoveries of the 20th century. Bell Burnell’s interest in astronomy began as a child in Northern Ireland, where her father was an architect for the Armagh Observatory. She has taught at a number of universities and was president of the Royal Astronomical Society for four years.
Presenter and Physicist
Physicist Brian Cox is a professor at the University of Manchester and reseracher for the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, but one of his biggest contributions to science is as a populariser. He made sporadic appearances on Horizon from 2005 and began presenting his own BBC science series Wonders of the Solar System in 2010. Most recently he fronted four-part documentary series Forces of Nature, and his fan following has led some to tip him as heir apparent to David Attenborough.
President, Royal College of Physicians
Jane Dacre’s three years as doctors’ chief have been far from straightforward, seeing her arbitrate on issues such as junior doctors’ strikes, plans for a seven-day health service, concern over funding and the impact of Brexit on the NHS. Dacre wanted to pursue a career in medicine from a young age and graduated from University College Hospital Medical School in 1980. She is an honorary consultant physician and rheumatologist at the Whittington Hospital and director of UCL Medical School. She is only the third woman to be elected president of the RCP since its inception in 1518.
Paul Hamlyn Chair of Surgery, Imperial College London
Ara Darzi is renowned as one of the world’s leading surgeons, a pioneer in robotic surgery and an advocate for innovation in the NHS. Born in Iraq to parents who had fled the Armenian genocide, Darzi moved to Ireland at the age of 17 to study medicine. A former health minister, global ambassador for health and life sciences and leader of the London Health Commission, Darzi now holds the prestigious Paul Hamlyn Chair of Surgery at Imperial College London and remains a key player in global healthcare policy and reform.
Chief Executive, Royal College of Nursing
The Royal College of Nursing is the world’s largest nursing trade union and professional body, which represents almost half a million nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants. Chief executive Janet Davies has recently voiced the body’s concern over nursing shortages, which it attributes to low pay and cuts to NHS bursaries. Davies was an executive director at the RCN for ten years prior to becoming chief executive, and began her nursing career in Manchester working in acute, mental health and community settings. Before joining the RCN she was chief executive of Mersey Regional Ambulance Service NHS Trust.
Chief Medical Officer for England
Dame Sally Davies is the government’s most senior adviser on health, leading the national response to threats ranging from Ebola to bioterrorism. A haematologist, she was responsible for developing the National Institute for Health Research in 2006 with a budget of £1 billion, and was formerly chief scientific adviser at the Department of Health. The first female chief medical officer, Davies has encouraged greater participation in medicine and science by women. She has recently expressed support for a government tax on sugar, and suggested that three proper meals a day could help combat the rise in childhood obesity.
Professor of Tropical Medicine and Director, Wellcome Trust
As director of the Wellcome Trust, one of the world’s largest biomedical research charities, Jeremy Farrar’s objective is simple: to improve health globally. He was previously director of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam, which became the leading centre for clinical research on bird flu under his leadership. Described as a visionary for his willingness to take risks, Farrar has advocated the use of technology to track and contain crises such as Ebola and Zika, and is keen for the Wellcome Trust to play a role in addressing the growing concern of antibiotic resistance.
Physicists
Andre Geim and Konstantin ‘Kostya’ Novoselov won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 for their pioneering research on graphene, which they first isolated at Manchester University in 2004. Hailed as the world’s first two-dimensional material, graphene’s light but highly durable properties give it huge potential for use across science, medicine and technology. Now colleagues in the university’s School of Physics and Astronomy, Geim was Novoselov’s PhD superviser at Radboud University in the Netherlands. The Russian duo made their discovery during one of their regular Friday night experiments at Manchester, using sticky tape to remove flakes from a lump of graphite.
Theoretical Physicist and Author
Considered the greatest theoretical physicist of his time, Stephen Hawking has made numerous ground-breaking discoveries in physics and cosmology, authored best-selling books, and was the subject of Oscar-winning film The Theory of Everything. Hawking was diagnosed at 21 with Motor Neurone Disease while studying Cosmology at Cambridge, and given two years to live. In the face of major political change and ongoing environmental challenges, Hawking recently warned, ‘we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it.’
Theoretical Physicist
Peter Higgs won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2013 with François Englert for his work on the Higgs boson, a sub-atomic particle that was discovered at the Large Hadron Collider in 2012 after almost 50 years of research. Now an emeritus professor at Edinburgh University where he conducted much of his work, Higgs has won numerous prestigious awards for his work. In 2016 he was one of 13 Nobel laureates to author an open letter published in the Telegraph urging voters to choose to remain in the EU and later said that Brexit was a ‘disaster’ for science.
Chairman, UK Research and Innovation
In 2016 Sir John Kingman was appointed to lead the newly created UKRI where he coordinates spending on research, overseeing a budget of £6 billion. The organisation brings together the seven research councils with Innovate UK and the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Kingman was previously second permanent secretary to the Treasury and responsible for five science spending reviews. He has said that Brexit presents scientists with an opportunity to position themselves at the centre of the UK's industrial strategy. A former board director of the European Investment Bank, Kingman is also group chairman at Legal and General.
Director, Francis Crick Institute
Eminent geneticist and Nobel Prize-winner Sir Paul Nurse is director of the Francis Crick Institute, Europe's largest single biomedical research centre, which was opened by the Queen in November 2016. Nurse’s ground-breaking work and research into the factors that control the division and shape of cells earned him the Nobel in 2001 and the Royal Society Copley Medal in 2005. He is a former CEO of Cancer Research UK, which is a partner in the Crick. 
Director, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Belgian microbiologist Peter Piot is at the forefront of research into infectious diseases in his role at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. While still a junior researcher in the ’70s, Piot travelled to Zaire to help contain the first outbreak of Ebola, and more recently called for the emergency release of an experimental vaccine during the recurrence of the virus in West Africa. Piot was also instrumental in early research into HIV and AIDS, and was a founding executive director of UNAIDS, the UN's programme to contain the HIV epidemic, for 13 years.
Professor of Cell and Gene Therapy, UCL ICH and Consultant Immunologist, GOSH
Waseem Qasim was responsible for the pioneering gene editing treatment used on one-year-old Layla Richards to treat her supposedly incurable leukaemia at Great Ormond Street Hospital in 2015. More than a year on and the treatment, which uses ‘molecular scissors’ to modify T-cells from healthy patients, has so far been judged a success and was used on a second child in 2016. Qasim has worked for the Leukaemia Research Fund and the Institute of Child Health as well as Great Ormond Street.
President, Royal Society
Nobel Prize-winning structural biologist Venki Ramakrishnan is president of the UK’s prestigious scientific academy the Royal Society. Ramakrishnan graduated from university in India and obtained a PhD from the University of Ohio. He was based in the US until 1999 when he joined the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. Ramakrishnan won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009 with Thomas A Steitz and Ada Yonath for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome. He has recently welcomed increased government spending on research in the wake of the EU referendum result.
Astronomer Royal
A previous president of the Royal Society and Master of Trinity College Cambridge, Martin Rees has conducted ground-breaking research in cosmology and astrophysics and has been Astronomer Royal, a post created in 1675, for over 20 years. After studying at Cambridge, Rees went on to hold post-doctoral positions at institutions around the world, including Princeton, before becoming a professor at Sussex University and then Cambridge. He was appointed Astronomer Royal in 1995 and has lectured and written widely on science, policy and the future of the human race, underscoring the negative consequences of scientific and technological developments.
President and Vice Chancellor, University of Manchester and President, British Science Association
Physiologist Nancy Rothwell was appointed president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester in 2010, becoming the first woman to hold the position at the UK’s largest university. Having conducted research into obesity and muscle wasting early in her career, Rothwell’s current focus is on neuroscience, and her findings have made major contributions to the understanding and treatment of brain disease and head-related injuries. Rothwell became the first president of the Royal Society of Biology in 2009 and president of the British Science Association in 2016.
Chief Executive, NHS England
Simon Stevens’s 2014 appointment to lead NHS England was hailed by Spectator editor Fraser Nelson as one of David Cameron’s best decisions on account of Stevens’s experience and knowledge of the UK’s health service. Stevens began his career on the NHS graduate management training scheme, working as a hospital porter and in a mortuary. He was a health policy adviser to Tony Blair before moving to UnitedHealth Group. During an uncertain period for the NHS he has taken the government to task on funding and spoken out on the burden caused by social issues such as obesity and alcohol abuse.
Government Chief Scientific Adviser
Mark Walport provides scientific advice to the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet, advises on aspects of policy on science and technology, and oversees the use of scientific evidence in government. Prior to his role in government, he was director of the Wellcome Trust for ten years. Walport recently published a report on the government’s use of artificial intelligence in future decision-making, articulating concerns over potential ethical issues and recommending openness and transparency to manage risks and gain public trust.
President, Royal College of Psychiatrists
President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists since 2014, Sir Simon Wessely leads the body responsible for standards, training and education in the psychiatric profession. He is also head of King's College London's Department of Psychological Medicine and director of the King's Centre for Military Health Research. Wessely's research into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome caused controversy amongst sufferers and even led to threats on his life. His other key area of research has been in military health, including Gulf War Syndrome, and he is a trustee of Combat Stress and a consultant adviser to the British Army.
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