International honour for Director of Censes Prof Sir Colin Blakemore

Wednesday 23 March 2016

Professor Sir Colin Blakemore, neuroscientist and director of the Centre for the Study of the Senses (CenSes) at the School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, has won the Elise and Walter A. Haas International Award, given by the University of California, Berkeley, USA. It recognises distinguished international work by a UC Berkeley graduate, and is one of the university’s most prestigious honours.

Sir Colin, who gained his PhD in Physiological Optics at the US institution in 1968, will travel to Berkeley in May as a guest of the university to collect the award, which was established in 1964. The prize is given annually and carries a cash award of $15,000 and an engraved medallion.

In his letter announcing the award, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks, praised Sir Colin’s contributions to biomedical research and his extensive range of influence that, he said, has ‘significantly impacted the wellbeing of people around the world.’

‘Your contributions to England and beyond exemplify Berkeley’s highest values. From your biomedical research, to your commitment to building collaboration and increasing communications of science, and to bridging the gap between arts and science – all have made you one of the most renowned scientists of our time.’

Professor Blakemore was knighted in the Queen's Birthday honours in 2014 for his groundbreaking research in vision and the development of the brain, and for his contribution to scientific policy and outreach. From 2003-7 he was the chief executive of the Medical Research Council, and is widely known through the UK media for his forthright views on the need for scientists to talk openly about the risks, as well as the potential benefits, of medical research.

When he heard the news, Sir Colin said: ‘I am delighted to have been given this wonderful award by UC Berkeley. The time that I spent at that great university in the sixties had a huge influence on my research, my love of the outdoors, and my preference in rock music! I now have yet another reason to be grateful to Berkeley.’

Professor Blakemore joined SAS in 2012 and, a year later, spearheaded the launch of The Human Mind Project. He now leads an international group of leading researchers from the humanities and the sciences who are working together to understand the nature and significance of the human mind. This interdisciplinary project is pioneering collaboration between many fields including philosophy, cognitive neuroscience, language studies, social science and evolutionary biology, as well as the visual and performing arts.

Professor Blakemore is also the principal investigator for a large (nearly £2m) grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, leading a project entitled Rethinking the Senses, which is aimed at unifying philosophical and scientific approaches to the study of perception.

As an influential scientist, Professor Blakemore is an esteemed speaker and adviser on a number of issues and also a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Academy of Medical Sciences. Over the years, his many accolades include ten honorary degrees from British and overseas universities and the Friendship Award from China, which he received in 2012, the country’s highest award for ‘foreign experts who have made outstanding contributions to the country's economic and social progress.’