In case you missed it…. 12 tales from St John’s in 2023

The year in review

As we head into 2024, we look back at the past 12 months at St John's College. From the launch of our spectacular new Buttery, Café and Bar to a multitude of good news generated by our hard-working students, academics and staff, it's been another year to celebrate. Catch up with some of the stories you may have missed.


Opening of new social spaces transforms 500-year-old tradition of community dining at St John’s

A spectacular new Buttery, Café and Bar opened at St John’s College to meet the demands of 21st century studying and eating.

All three facilities open throughout the day, offering the entire St John’s community a shared space and reinvigorating the communal spirit at the heart of College life.

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Cafe customers


Staying true to our values in challenging times

“Don't try and pre-judge your future: try to connect with your passions and your values that's going to be what carries you through, that's going to be what brings you happiness. Enjoy - find what you love.”

This advice was given by journalist, feminist and campaigner Natasha Walter, an alumna of St John’s, in the College’s podcast, Souvient. Natasha was chatting to podcast host Heather Hancock, Master of St John’s.

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Cambridge pulls no punches in ‘massive’ Varsity win

The ‘electric’ Varsity amateur boxing tournament saw St John’s medic William Tan help lead the Cambridge club to historic victory against Oxford.

Cambridge University Amateur Boxing Club captain Will and his squad had a ‘massive win’ in the 114th Varsity held in their Dark Blue rival’s home turf of Oxford on Friday 10 March.

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Will Tan with the Varsity boxing trophy


Professor Sunshine: the blue-sky thinker using solar energy to create green fuels

Professor Erwin Reisner, whose innovative Cambridge research team harnesses sunlight to turn rubbish and CO2 into sustainable fuels, explained why he chose this challenge, and revealed the balance between working for the greater good and day-to-day problem solving in the lab.

At the start of 2023, a year promising no let-up in the threats facing the planet, Professor Reisner and his team at Cambridge’s Yusuf Hamid Department of Chemistry published a paper whose findings seemed almost miraculous. A reactor developed by the researchers could, they revealed, transform both plastic waste and greenhouse gases into sustainable green fuels and other valuable products, powered solely by energy from the sun.

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Musicians from St John’s shine during ‘magnificent’ showcase of British talent at King’s Coronation

An impressive array of former choristers, composers and clergy from St John’s College took part in the spectacular Coronation Service of HM King Charles III and Queen Camilla in Westminster Abbey.

People taking major roles included Andrew Nethsingha – Director of Music at St John’s from 2007 until December 2022 – who directed the music throughout Saturday’s service, watched by millions of people worldwide.

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Andrew Nethsingha and musicians at the Coronation


Painting of Lady Margaret Beaufort smuggled to Cambridge to protect it from King Henry VIII’s henchmen unveiled

A painting of Lady Margaret Beaufort, matriarch of the Tudor dynasty and grandmother of King Henry VIII, went on display at the newly reopened National Portrait Gallery after a painstaking restoration project. 

The ‘extremely rare’ 16th-century painting, owned by St John’s College, is the earliest large-scale portrait of an English woman and one of the earliest large-scale portraits of a single individual in the UK.

During the restoration process it was discovered that Lady Margaret’s original facial expression in the portrait had been painted over and changed to be made more ‘pious and sombre’ – her expression has now been returned to the repose intended by the original artist.

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Lady Margaret Beaufort paintings before and after
Credit: Hamilton Kerr Institute.


Fellows’ Butler rocks silver service at St John’s College

John O’Sullivan is just as at home behind a keyboard as he is behind a serving platter in a career at St John’s spanning 25 years.

When not supervising Fellows’ lunches in the historic St John’s Combination Room or polishing the College silver, the Irish-born Fellows’ Butler – who marked his silver anniversary at St John’s on 27 July – is keyboard player in local rock band Common Ground.

The band’s name says much about John’s philosophy for meeting people from all walks of life at St John’s – whether it be waiting staff, Fellows, Masters or members of the Royal Family.

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Fellows' Butler John O'Sullivan in the Combination Room
Credit: William Clare.


Girls talented in maths spend summer school at St John’s College

A group of teenage girls from the UK and across the world discovered what it is like to study Mathematics at Cambridge during a free residential summer camp at St John’s College.

The 16 to 18-year-olds took part in Women in Mathematics, which was held to encourage more women to consider applying to study maths at Cambridge.

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The Ancient Greek philosopher who can still surprise after 2,400 years

Plato’s ingenious ability as a writer was the focus of a new book by Professor Malcolm Schofield, Emeritus Professor of Ancient Philosophy, Fellow of St John’s College, and world-renowned academic of ancient philosophy.

Known as the father of Western philosophy and author of the Republic, Plato (427-347 BCE) founded the Academy in Ancient Greece, the first ‘school’ of philosophy.

Professor Schofield, who wrote How Plato Writes: Perspectives and Problems, said Plato is ‘great fun to read’. “There are lots of jokes as well as deadly serious exchanges, and he’s a great one for springing surprises at you.”

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‘Exceptionally promising’ academics announced as winners of £100,000 prize

Two Fellows from St John’s were awarded prestigious Philip Leverhulme Prizes worth £100,000 each to advance their research in philosophy and theoretical statistics.

Dr Jessie Munton was announced a prize-winner by The Leverhulme Trust for her work on philosophy of mind, cognitive science and epistemology (the study of knowledge), and Professor Po-Ling Loh was named as a recipient for her research in theoretical statistics; her work spans topics such as high-dimensional statistics, robustness, optimisation, and privacy, with machine learning applications.

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Two Fellows


Rising star undergraduate celebrated as one of UK’s ‘Future Black Leaders’

St John’s student Annissa La Touche was named as one of this year’s Top 150 UK Future African and African Caribbean Leaders.

Annissa, who was Co-President of St John’s College Junior Combination Room (JCR) undergraduate committee, was recognised for her work representing the student body and with Beyond Equality, a UK organisation that challenges gender stereotypes.

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Annissa De La Touche


Early career academic awarded prestigious Fellowship for her research into mental health risks of social media

An academic from St John’s College was named as a Future Leaders Fellow and will receive £1.9 million to boost her research into social media and teenage mental health.

Dr Amy Orben is one of 75 new Future Leaders Fellows announced by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to support universities and businesses in developing their most talented early career researchers and innovators.

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Published 21/12/2023

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