Professor Sir Alan Battersby (1925-2018)

11:56, Monday 12 February 2018

The College is extremely saddened to share the news that our Honorary Fellow, Professor Sir Alan Battersby, has passed away after a short illness.

Born in Leigh, near Manchester, in 1925, Sir Alan vividly remembered listening to Churchill’s speeches on the radio. His academic career was put on hold when he decided to leave school to work in a factory to help with the war effort. But he also signed up for a correspondence course to gain the equivalent of A-Levels, travelling to Salford Technical College for practical classes every Saturday. Sir Alan’s results that were good enough for University entrance, and with the help of a scholarship, he went on to study Chemistry at the University of Manchester. It was an unconventional start to what Sir Alan modestly described as a ‘fairly conventional’ career.

Sir Alan began teaching in Cambridge in 1969. From 1988–92, he held the BP (1702) Professorship of Chemistry. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1966, and in 1992 he was knighted for his lifetime contribution to science. Sir Alan was awarded 20 national and international medals, including the Wolf Prize in Chemistry (1989, Israel), the Roger Adams Award (1982, USA), the Feltrinelli International Prize for Chemistry (1986, Italy), together with the Royal Medal (1984) and the highly prestigious Copley Medal (2000), both from the Royal Society. Sir Alan was chiefly known for his research on the biosynthesis of the ‘pigments of life’: haem, chlorophyll, and vitamin B12. 

Sir Alan was a familiar face at St Catharine’s, and as recently as June attended an exhibition of his medals, where he gave a wonderful speech to a large number of attendees. He will be sorely missed by his many friends in College.