Scientific Pioneers recognised by 2020 Royal Society of Edinburgh Medals

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

The most prestigious prize is the RSE Royal Medal, awarded on the authority of Her Majesty The Queen. This year, it has been awarded to Professor Peter Kennedy of the Institute of Infection Immunity and Inflammation at the University of Glasgow. His pioneering work in distinguishing the major human brain cell types has paved the way to significant advances in the treatment of neurological diseases and infections, as well as identification of a novel therapy for African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness).

Professor Kennedy said: “I am amazed, honoured and humbled in equal measure to be acknowledged by Her Majesty the Queen and the Royal Society Edinburgh with this award. As current events remind us only too well, science and the pursuit of new knowledge continues to be vital to society. I am extremely happy that I have been able to play a part in the advancement of neurological science and help to cement Scotland’s reputation as an innovative nation transforming lives globally.

“The award of the Royal Medal also reflects very well on the numerous scientific collaborators, research assistants, technicians, doctoral students and post-doctoral researchers with whom I have had the very good fortune to work over a period of 35 years.”

Professor Alan William Hood of St Andrews University, whose internationally commended work in theoretical and computational solar physics has helped to enhance understanding of the solar atmosphere, receives the RSE Lord Kelvin Medal.

Professor Ian David Duncan of the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been awarded the RSE Sir James Black Medal in recognition of his work as a pioneer in transforming our understanding of remyelination and laid key foundations for treatments of myelin diseases. These include multiple sclerosis which affects around 1 in 500 people in the UK.

Dr Luke Graham Boulter, of the MRC Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine at the University of Edinburgh receives the RSE Patrick Neill Medal for his discovery of a number of processes that are required for cancers to develop during chronic disease, and his identification of a series of therapeutically targetable signals that cancers use to grow. He is also an active champion of LGBTQ+ diversity in medicine and science.

Dr Paul O’Mahoney, a Post-Doctoral Research Assistant working within the Photobiology Unit at Dundee’s Ninewells Hospital, and a graduate of Dundee University receives the RSE Innovator’s Prize for Public Engagement for his work on the applications of physics in Photodynamic Therapy and Photodiagnosis.

Professor Niamh Nic Daéid, Director of The University of Dundee’s Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science receives the RSE Senior Prize for Public Engagement for her work across the forensic science and judicial landscape, bringing science and law together in strategic interdisciplinary conversations to find common ground and to address together, the challenges in the use of science in the service of justice.

Professor Nic Daéid commented: “I am honoured to be the recipient of the Royal Society of Edinburgh Senior Public Engagement medal. Having the opportunity to see things from the perspective of others, to understand their concerns and questions and to truly engage and communicate beyond disciplinary boundaries and across society is a privilege and so very important, today more than ever.”

Professor Dame Anne Glover, President of the RSE, said: “This year’s medallists have all made truly exceptional contributions to their own field of science. This year’s recipients join a small but brilliant group of pioneers that have been advancing learning and knowledge since the RSE’s Royal Charter was awarded in 1783. Scotland can be proud that such a cohort of brilliant talent, making a vast difference to lives all over the world, can be found within our small nation.”