Merton Professorial Fellow in Biochemistry Judith Armitage has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society. Professor Armitage has been recognised for her pioneering contributions to the study of bacteria and bacterial motility.
Professor Armitage has been at Oxford since 1985, when she joined the University from UCL. In 1996 she was made Professor of Biochemistry, and in 2006 she was part of the team who obtained funding for the Oxford Centre for Integrative Systems Biology which she now directs. Her research, she says, relies heavily on an interdisciplinary approach: "I couldn’t do without the physicists and mathematicians: The physicists have an understanding of single-molecule optics to look at flagella movement, the mathematicians allow us to model and understand complex pathways. My collaborations have taken the research to a new height which couldn’t otherwise have been achieved." And she gives credit also to her students - among them over thirty graduate students, several of whom have moved into academic chairs elsewhere: "Without these outstanding students I couldn’t have done the work."
She adds that her achievement is particularly satisfying, because, having begun her teaching career as University Lecturer, it demonstrates "that you can make it as a woman and from the ranks." Professor Armitage becomes the sixth member of the current Fellowship to be honoured in this way, joining Professors Sir Andrew Wiles, Ulrike Tillmann, James Binney, Peter Holland and the Warden, Sir Martin Taylor.
Two teachers nominated by Mertonian first years were amongst the winners at last week's Inspirational Teachers Awards. The awards, designed to recognise and show appreciation for inspirational teachers from state schools and colleges, were presented at an event held at St Hilda's College.
Tim Johnson from Redruth School in Cornwall was nominated by Rebecca Rundle, who is currently reading for a degree in History. He described the award as "a great honour" and said:"It is always very nice to know that as a teacher you have had a positive impact on a student's life, and that they remember you for it." Rebecca explained the positive impact Mr Johnson had on her acadmic career: "As a history teacher he initially fuelled my love for the subject when he began teaching me in year 9, and he helped me to realise my true potential every step of the way through the Oxford admissions process."
Christopher Collins, who teaches at Tendring Technology College in Essex, was put forward for an award by Biology undergraduate Tom White. Tom described Mr Collins' approach: "It is an understatement to say he was passionate about his subject, and over the course of the two years he taught me, I learned to enjoy and be fascinated by Biology."
The award scheme, now in its third year, recognises the crucial role played by teachers and careers advisors in encouraging talented students in their schools or colleges. A selection of current first-year Oxford undergraduates were asked to nominate teachers or careers advisors for the award who had inspired them to apply to Oxford, fostered their passion for a particular subject or supported them through the application process. The students were all from UK state schools or colleges which have a limited history of sending students to Oxford.
Next week, students from across the University will be putting on a performance of Calderón de la Barca's La Vida es sueño (Life is a Dream). On the production team are two Merton undergraduates, Jonathan Oakman, a first year studying English Literature and Language, and Francesca Kisiel, a second year studying French and Spanish.
Merton's Tutor in Spanish, Dr Jonathan Thacker, explains more about the play:
"La vida es sueño (Life is a Dream) was written by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, the preeminent dramatist of the court of Philip IV of Spain. It dates from the early 1630s and has become the best known play of the Spanish Golden Age. The typically Baroque themes include the relationship of being and appearance and the choices a human might make faced with uncertainty and despair. The play’s hero, Prince Segismundo of Poland, has been locked away by his father who believes a prediction that his son will be violent and inhuman and will dethrone him. Segismundo’s journey is charted by the playwright and involves love, betrayal, revolution, death and redemption.
On 10 and 11 May, an interdisciplinary conference titled Performing Medieval Text is being held at the College. Hosted by two of Merton's current graduate students, with generous financial support from Merton College and the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, the event brings together academics from different disciplines, countries, and career stages, and seeks to address the notion of the performative in various medieval repertoires (text, music, art).
Merton Chemistry Fellow Professor Véronique Gouverneur will be travelling to CEA Saclay in south-west Paris during Michaelmas term 2013 and throughout 2014 to carry out research as one of the 2012 recipients of the prestigious Blaise Pascal Research Chairs.
The Chairs, which were established in 1996 by the French state and the Île-de-France region, allow highly qualified, internationally acclaimed, foreign research scientists in all disciplines to continue their work on a scientific project for a 12-month period (which can be spread over two years) in a higher learning or research institution in the French capital. The management of these chairs is undertaken by the Fondation de l'École Normale Supérieure, and each year four candidates are chosen by a multi-disciplinary committee.
Previous winners for chemistry include Professor Ahmed Zewail (Nobel Prize, 1999), Professor Thomas A. Moore and Professor Dennis Curran to name but a few. The Blaise Pascal chairs have a prestigious reputation and their attribution represents an important career milestone.
Merton Floats, the College's Drama Society, staged Racine’s Phèdre for their Chapel Show in Hilary Term this year.
Phèdre proved to be extremely popular, and audiences had the chance to enjoy the echoing accoustics of the antechapel, which added weight to Phaedra’s (Bridget Dru) soliloquy to the gods, the use of the balcony for a scene - reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet - between Hugh Jackman’s Hippolytus and Clara-Laeïla Laudette’s Aricia, as well as the framing use of the screen for entrances and exits.
The director, Adam Diaper, a first year History and English undergraduate, and his team, including current Merton undergraduates Jonathan Oakman (Theseus) and Ella Bucknall (assistant director/Panope), were rehearsing and planning during the freezing cold weather at the start of the year, while hoping that warmer weather would prevail on the week of the show.
Phèdre is a classic of French drama, first written in the 17th century and still fresh and relevant today. In the translation into English in iambic pentameter, something of the dramatic poetry of the orginal French alexandrines is maintained.
The story is itself claustrophobic as the options open to the characters narrow to eventual inescapable despair and the final set of monologues. Unlike Euripedes' version of the story from which Racine drew his inspiration, where the gods directly meddle in the lives of Theseus and his family, here the Gods were an unseen, terrifying presence who are called upon - but who never directly answer. Here too the focus is shifted to Phaedra herself, in one of the great tragic roles, as her all too human choices come back to haunt her as circumstances slip beyond her control.
Diaper's direction ensured the play filled the space wonderfully as actors came and went and scene followed scene. The traverse seating, with the audience facing each other across the central stage space was a risky choice as it could have led to words becoming inaudible when the actors were facing the other half of the audience, but here it worked since there was always something to watch.
[Photo: Adam Diaper (2012, History & English). Report: Elizabeth Biggs (2009 Ancient & Modern History)]
The fourth Passiontide at Merton festival includes a world premiere, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Britten and performances of two iconic passiontide works: Arvo Pärt's 1982 setting of the St John Passion, Passio, and Handel’s Messiah.
Eriks Ešenvalds's Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis receives its world premiere at Evensong on Saturday 23 March. It is the most recent contribution to the Merton Choirbook, which is comprised of some forty new commissions by the major composers of today. Ešenvalds’s unaccompanied setting has been specially composed for the College’s mixed-voice choir; there is no doubt that he has been influenced by the warm and resonant acoustic of the thirteenth-century chapel. The Latvian-born composer is currently Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Trinity College, Cambridge.
Meurig Bowen, the Director of the Cheltenham Music Festival, introduces the music of Arvo Pärt in his lecture 'Pärt and the Passio'. Bowen spent some years managing the Hilliard Ensemble when they were giving early performances of the Passio. Pärt’s The Woman with the Alabaster Box can be heard at Evensong on Saturday 23 March, and Passio is at 9.30pm that evening.
In addition to the Choir of Merton College, The Marian Consort will be resident at Merton for the festival. They take the part of 'Evangelist' in Passio and will appear as the soloists in Messiah on Sunday 24 March at 5pm. Charivari Agréable will accompany the Choir of Merton College in Messiah, the closing concert of the festival.
A number of recent Merton graduates will soon be plunging into a very different educational environment. As trainees with the charity Teach First they will be spending a minimum of two years inspiring young people in schools in low income communities across England, raising their aspirations not just in the classroom, but in life.
The charity, founded in 2002 by former management consultant Brett Wigdortz OBE, trains committed individuals to become inspirational teachers. Each year, a new group of participants undergoes six weeks of intensive training before teaching in a partner school for at least two years, where they will work towards a Post Graduate Certificate in Education. More than half of those who successfully complete the programme continue to teach, with others going on to work in different sectors of society towards a future where educational success is not limited by socio-economic background.
Sofía Abasolo, who graduated in English in 2012, was very impressed to have been offered a place. She says, "I think the it offers a good opportunity for anyone who takes educational disadvantage seriously and wants to get some experience under their belt."
Georgina Johnson, who will be teaching English in the Kent & Medway region, says she has always been interested in education: "I've felt extremely lucky to have benefited from a good education and think it is important that such opportunities are available to everyone, regardless of their background. I applied to Teach First because of its mission to address educational disadvantage and its creation of a social movement of ambassadors to tackle the issue. It's really important that I use my education to benefit others and I will hopefully inspire my pupils come September. It will definitely be a challenge, but one that I am willing to take on!"
Each of the particpants will receive a bursary from the College's Compassionate Fund.
Lord Justice Leveson, chairman of the ongoing inquiry into press culture and ethics, spoke on a modern approach to sentencing criminals at the Halsbury Society Annual Lecture earlier this month. Already distinguished as a prominent figure within legal circles, Lord Leveson (1967 and Honorary Fellow) has become a household name since his involvement in the phone-hacking inquiry and his subsequent report on press standards.
Whilst alluding occasionally to the role played by the media, Lord Leveson confined his comments to the impact they have on the public image of criminal punishment. One of his most pivotal and influential roles is as Chairman of the Sentencing Council. Along with his team at the council, he has sought to offer guidance to judges on sentencing for controversial crimes, such as drug smuggling by women from abroad, many of whom are unaware of the consequences of their actions. His talk was inspiring, as was his clear passion for the work he is doing.
The Halsbury Society Annual Lecture gives members of the Law Faculty and the University generally the opportunity to hear Mertonians who have gained prominence in the legal world discuss their achievements and offer their views on contemporary legal practice.
[Photo: Lord Justice Leveson (1967) with Halsbury President Cressida Auckland (2011). Report: Rebecca Davies (2011, Law with European Law)]
We recently held a Choral & Organ Workshop Day for 31 potential choral and organ scholars, and choir directors. Our visitors were able to learn more about the opportunities at Merton for both singers and organists: they met current students, sang with the College Choir, heard about the admissions procedure and enjoyed a lunch and tea in the College Hall. Our singing teachers, Giles Underwood and Carys Lane, led a workshop and some short lessons, and William Whitehead gave an organ masterclass. There was also a presentation of scenes from Henry Purcell's opera The Fairy-Queen in a concert in the Chapel.
The programme for teachers included a session with Dr Daniel Grimley, Tutor in Music, who talked in detail about the music course at Oxford and more generally about the admissions process.
The day culminated in an Evensong sung by the visitors together with the full choir.
The Humanities Division and Merton College are delighted to welcome Professor Lorraine Daston, the Director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science as the Inaugural Humanitas Visiting Professor in The History of Ideas. Prof. Daston has organized research projects on the history of demonstration and proof, the varieties of scientific experience, the moral authority of nature, and the common languages of art and science. She has published widely in the history of statistics and probability theory, early modern natural knowledge, scientific objectivity, and the cognitive passions.
Prof. Daston delivered a series of public events during 1st week of Hilary Term on the theme of 'Nature's Revenge: A History of Risk, Responsibility and Reasonableness'. Further information can be found on the Humanitas webpages.
For her keynote lecture, Prof. Daston explored the different ways in which Western societies have explained the natural disasters that have befallen them. Dr Matthew Grimley, Mark Reynolds Tutor in History at Merton said, "Her lecture was vastly impressive in its chronological and inter-disciplinary range, beginning with medieval theology and ending with today's insurance market. She demonstrated beautifully how historians of ideas can help to illuminate issues of contemporary concern."
The Visiting Professorship in the History of Ideas has been made possible by the generous support of Francis Finlay (1962), Honorary Fellow of the College.
Merton Professorial Fellow in Physics Professor James Binney has been awarded the prestigious 2013 Eddington Medal by the Royal Astronomical Society "in recognition of his fundamental and enduring contributions to galactic astrophysics". Described as "one of the leading theorists of his generation", Prof. Binney's work focuses on the formation and structure of galaxies from a theoretical perspective. In recent years his research has centred on our own Galaxy, the Milky Way, which can be observed in increasingly exquisite detail - the goal is to deduce the Galaxy's history from its present structure.
The Eddington Medal, named after the British astrophysicist Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, is awarded for investigations of outstanding merit in astrophysics. The award will be presented at the 2013 National Astronomy Meeting in St Andrews, Scotland, in July.
Mertonian and Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Bernard Hogan-Howe was awarded a knighthood in the 2013 New Year honours list.
Sir Bernard, who matriculated in 1988 and read Jurisprudence, was made a Knight Bachelor for services to policing. The citation read, "Bernard Hogan-Howe QPM is a role model for single-minded crime fighting. He oversaw a 30% fall in crime over three years as chief constable of Merseyside; anti-social behaviour fell by 20% in a single year. Now Metropolitan police commissioner, he has brought new energy to action on gangs, guns and knife crime, using zero-tolerance tactics and sustaining frontline visibility. He oversaw the policing of London during the diamond jubilee, and the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games."
Sir Bernard, who succeeded Sir Paul Stephenson as Metropolitan Police Commissioner last year, said, "I am very proud and thrilled at this recognition of the hard work of colleagues in the Metropolitan police, South Yorkshire, Merseyside and Her Majesty's Inspectorate."
Mertonian Sir Howard Stringer was Kirsty Young's guest on a recent edition of BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs. As well as sharing the eight records he would choose to have with him were he to be marooned, he discussed the adventures and challenges he has taken on throughout his life, from serving in the US Army during the Vietnam war to becoming the first westerner to chair the Sony Corporation.
Sir Howard, who received an honorary doctorate from Oxford University in June last year, left Britain for the United States in the 1960s, and says of himself, "I think I'm a bit prone to new adventures. The same damned impulse that got me in trouble by sending me to America in the first place compels me to take challenges when offered them."
Other Mertonians who have appeared on Desert Island Discs:
23 September 1963 - Group Captain Leonard Cheshire
24 February 1969 - Angus Wilson
05 June 1976 - Eric Simms
13 May 1978 - Sir Lennox Berkeley
26 April 1987 - Frank Bough
26 June 1988 - Jeremy Isaacs
16 February 1992 - Sir Roger Bannister
13 February 2000 - Professor Stuart Hall
09 December 2007 - Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys
Sir Howard Stringer, (Merton, 1961, History), former CEO of the Sony Corporation and currently Chairman of Sony, together with his wife Dr Jennifer Patterson, has donated £1 million to Merton College to be used for the College's Schools Liaison and Access work. This gift was inspired by the recent Moritz-Heyman gift of £25 million to the University of Oxford to endow scholarships for Oxford University undergraduates with the lowest household incomes. The very generous Stringer-Patterson gift counts at 100% towards leveraging the next tranche of Moritz-Heyman Funds. The Moritz-Heyman scheme's matched funding challenge to the collegiate University will generate an unprecedented total of £300m to support Oxford undergraduates from lower-income backgrounds within the UK.
Merton has had a full-time Schools Liaison and Access Officer since July 2011. The Access Officer, Cressida Ryan, is responsible for the College's outreach work in Dorset and in Wiltshire, as well as the London Borough of Merton. The Stringer-Patterson gift will be used to fund this work and its future expansion and the College and University of Oxford are extremely grateful.