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Trinity biochemist takes on pivotal public role

Trinity Fellow Sir Venkatraman Ramakrishnan becomes President of the Royal Society today.

Leading the oldest scientific institution in the world will throw a spotlight on the Nobel prize-winning biochemist whose day job is Deputy Director of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge.

Photo: The Royal Society

Sir Venkatraman, popularly known as Dr Venki Ramakrishnan, has been a Fellow of Trinity since 2008. He was knighted in 2012. Together with Thomas Steitz and Ada Yonath, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 2009 for his work on the structure of ribosomes.

As President of the Royal Society, which was founded in 1660 to promote the use of science for the benefit of humanity, Dr Ramakrishnan will play a pivotal public role. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he outlined four areas on which he will focus as President.

These include trying to make sure that science occupies a more central place in society; increasing exchanges with scientists around the world; influencing science education, especially at secondary school level; and encouraging the Society’s 1,500 member-scientists to take a greater role in the organisation’s activities. He said:

We live in an increasingly scientific and technological society and so people need to understand the basis for how things work.

Everyone should be educated in science and mathematics through 18 – that is a process that is followed in many countries.

Dr Ramakrishnan, who was born in India and worked in the United States before coming to the UK, said immigration policies had implications for scientific research and development. While governments had a right to restrict immigration, processes should be clear and streamlined, he said.

Government needs to talk first of all about the benefits of immigration and not merely about the fears and problems of immigration. We are in an international market competing for the best talent.

More flexibility for overseas students to remain in the UK after their studies would help science in the UK, he said.

We should be able to retain some of the best brains who come here to study. I have been here only 16 years – it says something about the openness of British science and society that the Royal Society elected me as President.

Listen to the interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, 1 December 2015 (interview starts at 2.47).

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