Professor Nigel Richards

Category: 1980s /  All Harkness Stories /  Health & Social Care /  Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths / 

Professor Nigel Richards (HF 1983-85) thought he was heading for pharmaceutical industry (B.Sc., Imperial College, Ph.D., Cambridge University) when he applied for a Harkness Fellowship. After upsetting at least one member of the selection committee, he was surprised to learn that he had been funded to work at Columbia University, New York. He was fortunate to code a software package for computing the structure and properties of organic and biological molecules, subsequently used in numerous laboratories throughout the world. As a result, he took up a lectureship at Southampton where he was among the first group of researchers to combine experiment and theory to address problems at the interface of chemistry and biology. Back in the USA in 1991,  he carried out academic research in enzymology at the University of Florida, eventually becoming a Full Professor of Chemistry and a Distinguished Teaching Scholar. After a brief stint as Head of Chemistry & Chemical Biology at IUPUI in Indianapolis (2012-2015), family reasons caused him to return to the UK where he is presently Professor of Biological Chemistry at Cardiff University. He has been recognised for his work on the biosynthesis of the amino acid asparagine, which seems to lie at the heart of many forms of leukemia and tumour metastasis. He is actively involved in developing small molecules with potential use in treating sarcoma. His current research is aimed at re-engineering enzymes that will be useful in obtaining bacteria with expanded, “alien”, genetic alphabets and in the synthesis of novel anti-viral drugs.