Sir Alan Rushton Battersby

Category: All Harkness Stories /  Health & Social Care /  Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths /  Up to 1959 / 

Sir Alan Rushton Battersby (CFF 1950-52) FRS (4 March 1925 – 10 February 2018) was born in Leigh in Lancashire in 1925 and developed a fascination for chemistry while at school. At sixteen he joined the local electrical cable company to support the war effort while, in his spare time, studying by correspondence course combined with blitz-blighted journeys on Saturdays to Salford Technical College to do lab work. He won a scholarship to Manchester University where he became interested in how nature builds complex molecules. His academic career involved appointments at the Universities of St Andrews, Bristol and Liverpool until, in 1969, he moved to a professorship at the University of Cambridge where he stayed for the rest of his career. Whilst at St Andrews he was awarded a Commonwealth Fund Fellowship and studied at the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research in New York, and the University of Illinois. The three months of summer travel, then a required part of the fellowship, gave Sir Alan and his wife Margaret a life-long fondness of the States. Sir Alan was knighted in 1992 and has won numerous awards including the Copley Medal of the Royal Society in 2000 “in recognition of his pioneering work in elucidating the detailed biosynthetic pathways to all the major families of plant alkaloids. His approach, which stands as a paradigm for future biosynthetic studies on complex molecules, combines isolation work, structure determination, synthesis, isotopic labelling and spectroscopy, especially advanced NMR, as well as genetics and molecular biology. This spectacular research revealed the entire pathway to vitamin B12.”