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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Seven Oxford fellows elected to Royal Society

The professors join a long line of Oxford-affiliated academics in the prestigious group

In the scientific community, the Royal Society is the mark of distinction, being appointed a fellow means joining a club that includes the Isaac Newtons, the Charles Darwins and the Albert Einsteins of the world. Earlier this week, seven Oxford academics were added to those ranks.

The incoming class included mathematicians Martin Bridson and Marcus du Sautoy, chemist Bill David, physicist Artur Ekert, pharmacologist Antony Galione, geneticist Gil McVean and Astronomer and Astrophysicist Steven Balbus.

All of these academics have led their fields for years, conducting pioneering research in everything from calcium signalling to geometric group theory. Professor Steven Balbus of New College has previously won the Shaw Prize, widely considered the Nobel Prize of the East, for his work with disks of material surrounding a star or other body, while Professor Bridson has won the Whitehead Prize for his work with geometry.

“For a scientist, it is especially gratifying to know that one’s work is held in high esteem by one’s colleagues”, Professor Balbus told Cherwell. “ I also recognise that this is not solely about personal kudos. Election to the Royal Society carries with it some responsibility both to advise and to work as an advocate for science at a time when research funds are not plentiful.”

Professor McVean currently works with the human genome, attempting to document thousands of genomes to understand differences in human, but is most famous for bringing mathematics to the study of genetics. His scholarship has also made it significantly easier for scientists to study very diverse species and genomic sequences. Also involving maths, Professor du Sautoy has brought the ideas number theory to the study symmetry while running a BBC show called The Story of Maths, which hopes to increase the public awareness of maths.

In chemistry, Professor David has helped develop of neutron and X-Ray powder disaffiliation, a phenomenon he discovered. He currently focuses on the creation of batteries, including those that use ammonia as an energy vector, but has worked with lithium-ion batteries as well as hydrogen-based storage . His work has earned him awards over the last several decades, including the inaugural British Crystallography Association Prize and the European Society for Applied Physical Chemistry Prize.

As a sign of the future of computational science, Professor Ekert works in quantum-computing, which he has pioneered and furthered for years. His initial discovery was the usage of quantum entanglement, a phenomenon by which two particles are linked and perform the same motions no matter how far apart they are, to send information, allowing for miniscule and incredibly fast computing. For many, quantum computing represents the future of computers. Indeed, the Royal Society says he “has played a leading role in transforming quantum information science into a vibrant interdisciplinary field”.

Finally, pharmacologist Antony Galione has elucidated the effects calcium may have in the normal functioning of cells, discovering new pathways through which it connects cells and internal organelles. Indeed his work has helped discover the ways calcium channels affect Ebola infection, fertilisation, embryo development and cardiac contractility.

Oxford academics were the single largest share of the 50 new fellows, beating Cambridge and Aberdeen, which had five and three, respectively. New College was especially well represented in this selection, having three of its Fellows win the prize.

This year continues a series of good years for Oxford academics joining the Royal Society, with eight being initiated last year, as well.

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