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Cambridge academics recognised in Queen’s Birthday Honours 2018

Previous Tidings of joy
The Queen

Professor Mary Beard was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) while Master of St John's College, Professor Christopher Dobson, was awarded a Knights Bachelor and Emeritus Fellow of Darwin College Dr Richard Henderson was recognised with a Companion of Honour.

Three other Newnham College alumnae joined Professor Beard in becoming Dames in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2018, announced today - actor Emma Thompson, civil servant and diversity champion Sue Owen, and local government CEO Stella Manzie.

They join a range of women honoured for women at the forefront of their professions or who have championed women’s rights to coincide with the 100th anniversary year of women’s suffrage.

Dame Mary has been recognised for her services to the study of Classical Civilisation.

She said: “I am absolutely 100% delighted – especially to realise that Classical Civilisation is still taken seriously enough to be recognised in this way.

"That said, I expect a good few jokes about pantomime dames!” 

Beard’s work on classical civilisation has been matched by her engaging TV work and an inspiration teaching that together have brought the classics to hundreds of thousands of people world-wide – and to hundreds of students at Cambridge University.

Her latest work, Women and Power, investigates the roots of the silencing of women in the Classical period, taking it forward into the present day.

But she will be remembered by generations of undergraduates, not as the famous figure on the television screens, or even the fearless debater of Twitter, but as their supervisor.

Newnham classics student Charlie Pemberton said: “It was Mary who encouraged me to apply to Cambridge and indeed Newnham in the first place: we had emailed a bit when I was in sixth form, before she met me at a Newnham Classics Open Day,” says .

“As a supervisor, she is incredibly fair: she gives praise when it is due, but isn’t afraid to tell you when you’ve been a numpty (to put it lightly...!). Her warning never to take a source at face value - to do some digging to discover what it’s really getting at - proved invaluable in my exams.

"She didn’t just teach us the material, but how to handle or think with the material - and she makes the material so accessible and memorable. There is something so special about Newnham Classics, and I think Mary has come to symbolise that.”

Beard is herself an alumna of Newnham College, Cambridge, where she first studied Classics in 1973. She returned as a Fellow in 1984, at the time the only female lecturer in the Classics Faculty. She became Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge in 2004. 

Dame Carol Black, Principal of Newnham College, says: “This is well-deserved recognition of the outstanding contribution that Mary has made to the study of Classics and the promotion of public understanding of classical civilisation, a further accolade in Newnham’s highly-distinguished tradition in Classics.”  

The Master of St John’s was honoured with a knighthood in recognition of his ground-breaking research into Alzheimer’s disease

Professor Christopher Dobson has been was awarded a Knights Bachelor in the Queen's Birthday Honours 2018 to commemorate his illustrious scientific career.

Sir Christopher was recognised for his contributions to Science and Higher Education.

Sir Christopher is one of the world’s leading scientists working at the interface of the physical and biological sciences. Among other high-profile scientific achievements, in 2013 he co-founded the £50 million Cambridge Centre for Misfolding Diseases (CMD).

Scientists at the Centre focus on analysing the origins of neurodegenerative conditions - such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases - which occur because of ‘misfolded’ protein molecules. The experimental work by Sir Christopher and his inter-disciplinary research team has led to remarkable breakthroughs in the field.

Sir Christopher said he was astonished to have been made a knight and dedicated the honour to his students and scientific colleagues.

He said: “I am truly humbled to receive this remarkable honour. It would not have been possible without the brilliance and dedication of my students and scientific colleagues over many years, whose commitment to improving the lives of those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions is deeply impressive.”

“It also recognises the commitment of the University of Cambridge, and the UK Higher Education sector in general, to educating to the highest possible standards the most able and deserving students on whose shoulders the future of the world depends.”

Sir Christopher was educated at the University of Oxford and became an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Harvard University before he returned to Oxford as Professor of Chemistry.

In 2001 he moved from Oxford to the University of Cambridge when he was appointed as the John Humphrey Plummer Professor of Chemical and Structural Biology and elected a Fellow of St John’s College. He became Master of St John’s College in 2007.

Sir Christopher said: “I cannot express strongly enough how much I have valued the inspiration, encouragement, support and friendship that I have received at St John’s from students, staff, Fellows and alumni, and how important the intellectual and cultural environment that exists in this truly remarkable College has been for my scientific activities.”

Professor Tuomas Knowles, a co-founder of CMD and a Fellow of St John’s, said: “Sir Christopher's landmark discoveries over the past 30 years have truly transformed our understanding of misfolding diseases.

“His work has had enormous influence throughout the physical, biological and medical sciences, establishing new connections, and generating wide-reaching implications for molecular medicine. It is wonderful that such an eminent scientist and influential and inspiring leader has been recognised with this honour.”

Sir Christopher also paid tribute to his friends and family for their “unstinting support”.

He added: “On a personal note, I want to thank my friends, family and colleagues, and especially my wife, Mary, and children, Richard and William, for their fantastic encouragement throughout my life and career.”

Nobel prize winner and pioneer of electron microscopy Dr Richard Henderson was awarded the Companion of Honour. 

Dr Henderson, an Emeritus Fellow of Darwin College, shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2017 for his work developing cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution.

He achieved a quantum leap in imaging techniques when his work allowing atomic structure determinations of many proteins that were previously impossible to obtain, provided important insights into biological functions and mechanisms that will enhance the study of diseases such as neurodegenerative and infections diseases and cancer.

Dr Henderson said: “It is a great honour to join such a distinguished group of people from all walks of life. My scientific mentors Max Perutz and César Milstein were earlier Companions of Honour, so it is a great delight to me to be able to continue in this tradition.”

Professor Mary Fowler, Master of Darwin College, said: "I am delighted that Darwin College Fellow Richard Henderson has been appointed a Companion of Honour - this and his Nobel Prize are richly deserved indeed. Richard's skill and his immense dedication benefit us all, bringing hope for much needed treatments for a wide range of diseases."

Many more alumni were honoured, with a CBE for television presenter and author Bamber Gascoigne (Magdalene) and knighthoods for historian and broadcaster Professor Simon Schama (Christ's) and Government barrister James Eadie (Magdalene). 

Honorary Magdalene Fellow Sir Christopher Greenwood was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (GBE) while Professor Jane Marshall (Murray Edwards) was given an Order of the British Empire for services to Education in Health Sciences.

Thomas Adès (King's), received a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to music. Professor Nicholas Marston, Vice-Provost and Director of Studies in Music at King's College, said: "It is excellent to see artistic creativity in the UK being recognised in this fashion.

"King’s College can boast a remarkable line of composers across many generations; among contemporary figures, Tom Adès stands together with Judith Weir and George Benjamin as one of our many distinguished alumni whose musical and creative talents not only bring lustre to the College but – more importantly –  enrich the lives of many people in this country and around the world.

"We congratulate him very warmly."

Leaders in fields from classics to Alzheimer’s research are recognised today in the Queen's Birthday Honours list.

I am absolutely 100% delighted – especially to realise that Classical Civilisation is still taken seriously enough to be recognised in this way. That said, I expect a good few jokes about pantomime dames!
Professor Mary Beard

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