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Sir Tim Hunt

Oration

Presented by: Professor Frank Sanderson

Honorable Pro-Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting Sir Tim Hunt for the award of an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University.

Sir Tim Hunt is an outstanding cell biologist who through his research at the University of Cambridge, at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole in Masschusetts and at the Clare Hall Laboratories of Cancer Research UK, has contributed immeasurably to our knowledge of most aspects of cell biology. 

His discovery in 1982 of the concept of control by degradation to the cell cycle field was ground-breaking and is fundamentally important in cancer research. 

Richard Timothy Hunt was born in 1943 in Neston in the Wirral, the son of Richard and Katherine. At the time, his father was a lecturer in palaeography at the University of Liverpool. Immediately after the war, the family moved to Oxford where his father took up a long term position as Keeper of the Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library.  

Tim still wonders about his early education. After being taught Latin by a governess, he was sent for unexplained reasons to the Infants Department of the Oxford High School for Girls – all he can remember is that the girls had bossy mothers and that he was not very good at knitting. 

At eight years of age, he went to the Dragon School in Oxford where he struggled with Latin and Greek, was bad at maths, hopeless at history, good at English and, significantly, displayed an outstanding aptitude for biology. He recalls, "from then on I really never had to make any more career decisions".  

At Magdalen College School, he developed a love of chemistry and gained inspiration from the Extramural Lectures given by the University of Oxford and the Christmas Lectures in the Oxford Museum. He was also an enthusiastic cricketer, gaining inspiration from his hero Denis Compton. 

In 1961, Tim went to Clare College, Cambridge to read natural sciences, graduating with honours in 1964, followed by a doctorate in biochemistry in 1968. After a fruitful spell doing post-doctoral research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, he returned to the biochemistry department at Cambridge where he worked on various aspects of the control of protein synthesis throughout the 70s and 80s, with many summers spent in Massachusetts at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory both teaching and doing research.  

In 1982 on one of his visits to Woods Hole, he discovered cyclins, which turned out to be components of "Key regulators of the Cell Cycle", and this led to a share of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2001, together with Lee Hartwell and Paul Nurse.  

In 1990, he became Principal Scientist at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, now Cancer UK, leading a laboratory working on the control of the cell cycle. In his long and distinguished career, he has written several books and published numerous academic papers on cell and molecular biology. 

And apart from the Nobel Prize, he has had many other acknowledgements of his contribution to science: 

  • He is a Fellow of the Royal Society  
  • In 1993, he was awarded the Abraham White Scientific Achievement Award of the George Washington University  
  • He is a Foreign Honourable Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences  
  • He was a Founder in 1998 and now Fellow of the UK's Academy of Medical Sciences  
  • He is a Foreign Associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences
  • He is an Honorary Fellow of the University of Cambridge 
  • In 2002, he was appointed Officier Legion d'Honneur 
  • In 2006 he was awarded the Royal Society's Queen's Medal for his discovery of the protein cyclin  
  • He was knighted in in the Queen's Birthday Honours List of 2006 

He is currently the Chair of the Council of the European Molecular Biology Organization. His ground-breaking research findings in molecular biology he recalls, "owed more to luck, and keeping our eyes open while doing other things, than any rational approach". 

He acknowledges the value of serendipity allied with curiosity, becoming distracted by the scientific side-paths and noticing things he wasn't looking for. He recognises his good fortune in being able to witness many of the founders of molecular biology at close hand, people like Max Perrutz and Fred Sanger who were valuable and accessible role models. 

He remembers the influential presence of Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick at lunchtimes in the departmental canteen explaining what he was thinking, and taking care to ensure that everyone understood what he was thinking. 

The obvious pleasure Tim takes in learning new things means that he is still a student at heart, never happier than when collaborating with fellow scientists and promising postgraduates in a mutual course of discovery LJMU Fellow Sir John Skehel has spoken of Tim's sheer thirst for knowledge, his enormous influence in his field of research, his great generosity with ideas and in discussion with fellow scientists and his ability to take pleasure in the achievements of others in his field. 

He is truly an outstanding scientist who continues to serve as an inspirational role model for those eager to follow in his footsteps. We are proud to honour him with a fellowship today. 

Thus I have great pleasure in presenting Sir Tim Hunt, this most distinguished son of our region, for admission to our highest honour of Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.