Lectures by former students commemorate Department of Biochemistry's golden anniversary
Current and former staff from the Department of Biochemistry, including the founder Professor Sir Hans Kornberg, will gather in Leicester this week to celebrate the Department's 50th birthday with a symposium featuring lectures by three leading scientists who are all Leicester alumni.
Tuesday’s event incorporates the annual Redfearn Lecture, named in honour of Professor Eric Redfearn, whose career at Leicester was cut short by a fatal car accident in 1968. In addition, the half-day symposium celebrates 100 years of the Biochemical Society.
3.00pm: Professor Colin Kleanthous
Protein-mediated transmembrane signalling through bacterial porins (Biochemical Society Centenary Lecture)
Professor Kleanthous studied at Leicester as an undergraduate and then took his PhD here in 1985. His subsequent career has taken him to UC Berkeley, Glasgow, UEA and his current position as Professor of Biochemistry at the University of York. He is Chairman of the Biochemical Society and Chairman of the Wellcome Trust Basic Science Interview Committee.
3.45pm Professor Andrew Griffiths
Miniaturising the laboratory in droplets
Professor Griffiths took his PhD at Leicester in 1988 and then moved to the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge. He is now Director of the Laboratoire de Biologie Chimique at the Institut de Science et d'Ingénierie Supramoléculaires (ISIS), University of Strasbourg.
5.00pm Professor Frank Gannon
Switched on by the oestrogen receptor (Redfearn Memorial Lecture)
After undergraduate study in Ireland, Professor Gannon gained his PhD at Leicester in 1973. He then took up posts at the University of Madison Wisconsin and the University of Strasbourg before returning to Ireland where he was Director of the National Diagnostic Centre. After a period as Executive Director of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) and Senior Scientist at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Professor Gannon was appointed Director General at the Science Foundation Ireland and in January this year he moved to Brisbane to take up a position as Director of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research.
Entry to the symposium, which will be held in the Frank and Katherine May Lecture Theatre in the Henry Wellcome Building, is free and open to all
These particular distinguished alumni are just three of the students who have passed through our Department of Biochemistry in the past half-century. Tomorrow’s event will be attended by numerous former staff and students and will be followed by a private party in the Charles Wilson Building.
A Brief History of Biochemistry at Leicester
The first Chair in Biochemistry at the University of Leicester was Professor Hans Kornberg, a protégé of Nobel Laureate Hans Krebs (with whom he wrote the first book on bioenergetics). Kornberg was appointed in 1960, ran the Department until 1975 and is now Professor of Biology at Boston University in the USA from where he is returning to Leicester tomorrow for the celebrations.
One of Kornberg’s research students who accompanied him to Leicester was John Ashworth who was later appointed to a lectureship here. Ashworth was Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government from 1976 to 1981, followed by periods spent as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Salford and Director of the LSE. He retired in 2007 and was knighted in 2008.
In 1975, Professor Bill Shaw became the Department’s second head and two years later Professor Bill Brammar was appointed to the Chair left vacant by Kornberg’s departure. Under the leadership of ‘the two Bills’, and in conjunction with the newly established Leicester Medical School, the Department of Biochemistry flourished and developed a reputation for structural biology (the molecular structure of proteins). A fruitful research collaboration was established with the ICI Joint Laboratory while on the teaching side the Department established BSc programmes in Medical Biochemistry and Chemical Biology.
Professor David Critchley took over as Head of Department in the early 1990s and oversaw an expansion of molecular cell biology research within the Department. He was seconded to Cancer Research UK and, on returning to Leicester, took over co-ordination of the Cancer Theme within the College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology.
Professor Gordon Roberts, who had helped to establish the nuclear magnetic resonance facilities in the Henry Wellcome Laboratory of Structural Biology, chaired the Department from 2002 to 2004. In that year Dr Tim Harrison took over and the Department, which had long been housed in the Adrian Building, moved into state-of-the-art facilities in the Henry Wellcome Building. The current Head of Biochemistry is Professor John Schwabe.