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Visiting Nobel scientists give advice to Sussex students

Professor Dr Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard speaks at the Life Sciences Symposium

The University of Sussex has welcomed not one but two Nobel Prize winning scientists to its Falmer campus this week.

Professor Dr Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Prof Sir Venki Ramakrishnan had the undivided attention of Sussex academics and students as they gave talks during the annual Life Science’s Research Symposium on Thursday.

University of Sussex Professor Sarah Guthrie, head of life sciences, said: “It is fantastic that our students and staff have the opportunity to learn and take inspiration from two such eminent scientists.

“The Life Sciences Symposium aims to highlight the great work that our academics do and this year’s event clearly shows that there is no let-up in the level of superb science being carried out here on campus.” 

Professor Nusslein-Volhard is one of just 18 female winners of a Nobel Prize for scientific research, which she received along with Eric Wieschaus and Edward B. Lewis for their research in genetic control of embryonic development in 1995.

She is also a leading campaigner for women in science most notably through her eponymous foundation dedicated to supporting talented female scientists with children.

Professor Nusslein-Volhard delivered the Maynard Smith Lecture at the Symposium on “The development of colour patterns in fishes: Towards an understanding of the evolution of beauty” while also speaking about her illustrious career to PhD students and researchers a day earlier in an event organised by Athena Swan life sciences.

In a rare speaking engagement in the UK and on her return to the Falmer campus for the first time in more than 40 years, she told students that becoming a top scientist was not for everyone and required sacrifices but added it gave tremendous freedom unlike almost any other job.

She added: “Students must work hard and be talented. Like being a musician, you have to be musical. I was determined. I really, really wanted to be a scientist.

“You don’t work for anybody else, you work only for yourself.”

Around 200 symposium attendees were similarly fortunate to hear from Professor Ramakrishnan who delivered the Cornforth Lecture on “The Termination of Translation”.

The president of the Royal Society, Professor Ramakrishnan shared the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2009 for his work on the structure of the ribosome, a complex molecule that forms a factory for protein synthesis in cells, and was knighted three years later.

He said: “My advice to students would be to find out what you are really interested in and follow it and not be too wedded to what is fashionable in science.

“I would say don’t be too wedded to the idea of an academic career, there are lots of opportunities in start-up companies, government, journalism. People are sometimes too careerist and want to plan five steps ahead but it never works out that way.

“Sussex has an advantage in that you are in a nice area of the country, you’re not far from an airport and you have a good reputation for nurturing talent with Harry Kroto, Tom Blundell and Paul Nurse.”

Six Sussex academics also took to the stage on the day to deliver interesting insights into some of the work going on within the Life Sciences school.

The two Nobel winning scientists are just the latest in a number of high-profile and inspiring visitors to address Sussex staff and students, following in the footsteps of former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, actor Sir Ian McKellen, broadcast journalists Clive Myrie and Justin Webb and authors Alexander Masters and Ali Smith. 

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By: Neil Vowles
Last updated: Thursday, 14 September 2017

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