A memorable evening with Nobel Prize winner

Oakham School was honoured to welcome Nobel Prize winner and current President of the Royal Society, Dr Venkatraman Ramakrishnan FRS, for a unique event: ‘In conversation with Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, Nobel Laureate.’

The Wilson Auditorium was full to capacity with students studying Science and Philosophy in the Sixth Form at Oakham, along with pupils from a variety of other schools across the region including Harington School, Beauchamp College, Uppingham School, Stamford Endowed Schools, Loughborough Grammar and Leicester Grammar. 

Dr Ramakrishnan, who was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009 for studies on the structure and function of the ribosome, took part in an hour-long symposium where he conveyed a real passion for his work.  He discussed a variety of topics including his journey to the Nobel and the nature of scientific truth. The atmosphere was electric, with all of the students thoroughly engaged throughout the whole event. Indeed, the feedback post-event suggests that they were, in fact, ‘buzzing’! As one Oakhamian outlined: “it was a memorable experience to be able to hear his thoughts on such a wide range of topics.”

As well as being able to hear his thoughts and opinions from his decades of experience which span three scientific disciplines (and working in three continents), students also had the opportunity to ask him their own questions. When quizzed whether he liked studying Biology at school, Dr Ramakrishnan was candid in his reply – the answer was a resounding ‘no’! However, he was equally candid in explaining why he, later in his career, gave up Physics to work in the field of Biology.  The interesting discoveries of the time, namely DNA sequencing, were key and he certainly impressed upon the students the excitement of working in the fast-moving field of molecular biology. 

Following the event students had the chance to meet Dr Ramakrishnan over an informal supper where he was incredibly generous with his time, talking with a great number of pupils and staff.

“Whilst we have regular Biology Society (‘Bio Soc’) meetings here at Oakham, this was an incredibly special one-off event for us – one that has taken two years to arrange,” says Dr Andrew Nicoll, Biology teacher at Oakham School.  “We were delighted not only to be able to host Sir Venki to inspire our scientists, but also to be able to reach out to young people from the East Midlands so that they too could take part in the event.  We hope the evening went some way to help inspire the next generation of thinkers and scientists for the country.”

It was also a great pleasure that former Oakhamian Dr Navin Leanage, who has been a long-standing supporter of the Biology Society, was able to return to the School to make a short presentation to Dr Ramakrishnan. Sir Venki himself thanked Oakham for the invitation and, in his words, for “making it so much fun!”

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