Experts on Covid-19, conservation, climate change and law elected as Honorary Fellows of St John’s

Prestigious awards bestowed upon eminent former scholars and Fellows

Four distinguished experts in the fields of public health, conservation, climate change and law have been made Honorary Fellows of St John’s College in recognition of their exceptional work.

Professor Sharon Peacock CBE, Executive Director of Public Health England and Chair of the Covid-19 Genomics UK consortium; Professor Bhaskar Vira, currently Head of the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, Professor Walter Woon, SC, former Attorney-General of Singapore, and Professor Sir David King, founder and Chair of the Centre for Climate Repair at the University of Cambridge, have all been named as Honorary Fellows of the Cambridge College.

An Honorary Fellowship is the most prestigious award St John’s can bestow upon eminent people who have a connection with the College, and who have attained distinction in their area of expertise.

“I really appreciate St John’s programme of financial support to students from lower-income families”

Professor Peacock, a new Honorary Fellow

Professor Sharon Peacock CBE FMedSci is Professor of Public Health and Microbiology at the University of Cambridge, and Executive Director of the Covid-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium where she has led one of the most successful genomic sequencing operations in the world for SARS-CoV-2, the cause of Covid-19. She is also a non-executive director on the Board of the Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Professor Peacock left school at 16 to work in a local shop. After getting a job in a dental surgery, she trained as a dental nurse and later as a state-registered nurse while she studied for her GCSEs at night school. She worked as a qualified nurse while taking her A-Levels at a technical college and successfully applied to Southampton University to study medicine. Professor Peacock initially pursued postgraduate training as a physician before specialising in clinical microbiology. She is a member of the Royal College of Physicians and a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists.

She is known worldwide for her research on the application of microbial whole genome sequencing to diagnostic and public health microbiology. She is also an authority on a range of tropical infectious diseases after leading the bacterial diseases research programme at the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit in Bangkok for seven years. Professor Peacock has raised around £60 million pounds in science funding, published more than 500 peer-reviewed papers, and trained a generation of microbiologists.

A Fellow of St John’s College from 2013-2015, she is a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, and an elected Member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation. In 2015, she was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to medical microbiology, and also received the prestigious Unilever Colworth Prize in 2018 for outstanding contribution to translational microbiology. The MRC Millennium Medal followed in 2021. 

Professor Peacock said: “It is a huge honour to be returning to St John’s College as an Honorary Fellow. It is a diverse and friendly place, and I am looking forward to reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. Having a lived experience of the transformative power of higher education on social mobility, I really appreciate their programme of financial support to students from lower-income families. I hope to be an active supporter of this and other activities that result in improved access to capable students regardless of background or circumstances.”

“St John’s has played an important and transformational role in my life, both personal and professional”

Prof Bhaskar

Professor Bhaskar Vira is Professor of Political Economy, Head of the Department of Geography at Cambridge, and Graduate Tutor and Fellow at Fitzwilliam College. He is the incoming Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education at the University of Cambridge and is due to take up the role in October 2022.

An economist-turned-geographer, Professor Vira’s research reaches across disciplines, covering political economy of development, especially in India, and political ecology, focusing on forests, wildlife and land-use change, as well as the social and political context for biodiversity conservation.

He has led large-scale interdisciplinary projects across the natural and social sciences, from human geography and institutional economics to conservation. He was Founding Director of the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute and is closely involved with the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and Cambridge Global Food Security. He also works with the Centre for Science and Policy, Cambridge Zero and the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and is a trustee at the Gates Cambridge Trust.

He studied Economics at the Universities of Delhi and Cambridge, where he was an undergraduate and postgraduate at St John’s, and College Lecturer in Economics in 1993-1994. Professor Vira has contributed to international science-policy panels, such as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, and was awarded the Royal Geographical Society’s Busk Medal in 2018 in recognition of his contributions to interdisciplinary research on environment and development, and in 2021 he was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. He is also a member of the Department of Geography’s Vital Geographies thematic research group and his current research ranges from agrarian change and rural transformations in India to sustainable finance for conservation landscapes in the post-Covid world.

Professor Vira said: “I am delighted, and deeply honoured by this recognition. St John’s has played an important and transformational role in my life, both personal and professional, and I am very grateful for all the support and mentorship that I received as a student and as a research scholar. These experiences have shaped my own values and commitment in my academic career, and it is a privilege to deepen my association with an institution that I hold in great affection.”

“I hope that I may contribute to the intellectual life of the College, especially where Asia-Europe relations are concerned”

Prof Walter SC Woon

Professor Walter Woon, SC, former Solicitor-General and later Attorney-General of Singapore, is another distinguished alumnus of St John’s with a career spanning academia, politics and diplomacy. Currently a Senior Counsel of the Supreme Court, David Marshall Professor of Law at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Chairman of regional law firm RHTLaw Asia LLP, he has played a leading role in Singapore’s legal education system for many years.

A former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) in his home country, Professor Woon was also Legal Adviser to the President and Council of Presidential Advisers, a member of the board of the Monetary Authority of Singapore and served as Ambassador of Singapore in the EU, Germany, the Benelux countries, Greece and the Vatican 1998-2006.

Also previously Dean of the Singapore Institute of Legal Education, he was educated at the NUS and St John’s, where he took his Master of Laws (LL.M) degree (1983), completed on a Commonwealth Academic Staff scholarship.

Since graduating from St John’s, Professor Woon has been actively involved in the College, including in helping to set up the Singaporean Academic Award and returning as Beaufort Visiting Fellow in Michaelmas Term 2019. He is also a director on St John’s Singapore Board, further developing links between the College and Singapore. In addition he is widely published, his book Walter Woon on Company Law being the standard text in Singapore’s law and business schools, and is author of four legal-historical novels in The Advocate’s Devil series, covering 1937-1945 when the sun set on the British Empire with the Fall of Singapore and subsequent Japanese occupation.

Professor Woon said: “I am deeply appreciative of this unexpected honour. It crowns my academic career. I hope that I may contribute to the intellectual life of the College, especially where Asia-Europe relations are concerned.”

For many years Sir David has warned about the causes and impact of climate change

Sir David King

Professor Sir David King is a South African-born British chemist and academic who was forced to leave apartheid South Africa as a result of his opposition to the regime. He was a Fellow of St John’s College from 1988-1995 before becoming Master of Downing College until 2000, where is now an Honorary Fellow. He is a former 1920 Chair of Physical Chemistry at the University of Cambridge and is now Emeritus Professor. Sir David’s academic career also includes serving as the Founding Director of the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at Oxford and as Chancellor of the University of Liverpool.

For many years Sir David has warned about the causes and impact of climate change and is founder and Chair of both the Centre for Climate Repair at Cambridge and the Climate Crisis Advisory Group – an independent global scientific body created in response to the climate crisis to inform and guide climate repair – having previously served as the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser and Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Climate Change and being instrumental in creating the Energy Technologies Institute.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Foreign Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was knighted in 2003 and in 2009 was made a Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur by the French government. Sir David also won the 2022 American Association for the Advance of Science (AAAS) David and Betty Hamburg Award for Science Diplomacy.

Published 18/3/2022

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