National achievement highlighted by Royal Society of Edinburgh’s medals

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) has announced nine recipients of its annual medals, with two scholars being awarded the coveted RSE Royal Medal.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), Scotland’s National Academy, has announced the winners of its highly prestigious medals this week, which recognise exceptional achievement in science, academia, and public engagement.

The most notable accolade is the RSE Royal Medal, awarded on the authority of Her Majesty The Queen. This year, Professor David Leigh and Professor Andrew Morris have been awarded the medal for their work in scientific research.

Professor Leigh of the University of Manchester is recognised for his pioneering work in methods to control molecular-level dynamics. His body of work on the synthesis of entwined and entangled molecular systems—such as threads, knots, and links—has been ground-breaking and has enabled advancement of synthetic molecular machines (nanobots).

Professor Leigh said: “I’m delighted and humbled to be awarded a Royal Medal from the RSE. The list of past recipients of RSE Royal Medals reads like a roll call of the highest distinction in Scottish life, encompassing the sciences, arts, business and public service, and to have my name added to them now is an immense honour.”

Professor Morris, Director at Health Data Research UK and Vice Principal for Data Science at the University of Edinburgh receives the award in recognition for his exceptional contributions to advancing health data science in Scotland and internationally. His efforts have led to the creation of Health Data Research UK, for which he serves as inaugural Director, and the creation of the UK’s Health Innovation Gateway, which has catalysed the trustworthy use of health data for patient and public benefit. This resource is proving invaluable in, amongst other things, the fight against Covid-19 with real-time reporting to CMO Advisory Groups and SAGE.

Upon receiving the medal, Professor Morris said: “The UK has a rich heritage in scientific discovery and health research. We are fortunate to have collaborations between outstanding academic Institutions, the NHS and the public which keep us at the forefront of health discovery in the digital age, with data at the heart of this. It is an honour to be recognised by the RSE for my small part in how we use health data to create new knowledge.”

Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, President (interim) of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, said: “The Royal Society of Edinburgh’s medals recognise researchers and academics whose discoveries have helped us understand and change our perception of the world. Through a mixture of curiosity, determination and brilliance, their work not only makes a difference to society but continues to put research carried out in this country on the world map. I offer them all my wholehearted congratulations.”

Other medal winners included:

Professor Jane Hillston from the University of Edinburgh receives the RSE Lord Kelvin Medal for her work, including developing the first compositional framework for the quantitative analysis of systems. This pioneering work has had widespread applications in engineered and natural systems.

Professor Andrew Waters of the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Parasitology at the University of Glasgow is awarded the Sir James Black Medal for his long and distinguished service. His outputs have included world-leading research observations in tropical medicine and health in an illustrious academic career spanning more than four decades. He is a global authority in malaria research, a disease that remains one of the major threats to humankind.

Professor Roland Wolf, Director of Strategic Development at the University of Dundee is also recognised with the RSE Sir James Black Medal for his work in drug and chemical safety. He has been actively involved in the development of the life sciences and biotechnology, in Scotland and worldwide. He is a distinguished communicator, which he has used to enhance our understanding of science.

Professor John Peter Renwick of the University of Edinburgh, one of the world’s leading experts on the French Enlightenment is awarded the RSE Sir Walter Scott Medal. It recognises the monumental and ground-breaking contribution he made to the 140-volume Complete Works of Voltaire, and his responsibility in the scholarly resurrection of the highly significant figure, Jean-François Marmontel.

Dr Mehul Malik from Heriot-Watt University is the recipient of the RSE Makdougall Brisbane Medal for his work in pushing the boundaries of our understanding of quantum mechanics and its use in modern technologies such as quantum cryptography and communications. His world-leading contributions to understanding high dimensional entanglement and the development of techniques for quantum communications and cryptography are currently adopted in labs worldwide.

Dr Julie Welburn of the Wellcome Centre for Cell Biology at the University of Edinburgh is awarded the RSE Patrick Neill Medal for enhancing our understanding of human cell division and disease through her research into the structure and cooperativity of key motor proteins and microtubule tracks.

Dr Manuel Fernández-Göetz of the University of Edinburgh receives the RSE Thomas Reid Medal for his position as a leading Early Career researcher on diverse aspects of the European Iron Age. His contributions have provided markedly fresh thinking in impressive monographs, edited collections, and papers in highly regarded journals.

The RSE recognises excellence through awarding several medals, the most prestigious of which is the RSE Royal Medal. Former winners of the RSE Royal Medal, which was instituted by Her Majesty the Queen in 2000, include Nicola Benedetti, Sir Ian Wood, Mr David Climie OBE, Sir John Cadogan, Baroness Helena Kennedy of the Shaws QC, Professor Karen Vousden FRS FRSE, Professor Tom Devine FBA HonMRIA FRSE, and Professor Peter Higgs FRS FRSE.