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Outstanding students receive Larmor Awards

A record number of outstanding students from St John’s have received Larmor Awards, which are given annually to graduating junior members in recognition of “intellectual qualifications, moral conduct, or practical activities.”

Named after the 20th-century physicist and mathematician, Sir Joseph Larmor, who was both a student and Fellow of the College, the awards are a unique honour given to students of St John’s for all-round excellence, on the recommendation of a committee comprising both senior academics and their fellow students. 

The presentation takes place in the Master’s Lodge on the morning of General Admission – the day when most students in their final term graduate. Many former recipients have gone on to enjoy high-profile success in a wide range of different fields. Previous winners include Jonathan Miller of Beyond The Fringe fame; the former England Cricket Captain Mike Brearley; the historian Peter Hennessy; the gold-medal winning international lacrosse player Laura Plant; and the organist and conductor Stephen Cleobury.

Professor Chris Dobson, the Master of St John’s College, said: “We have never had more than six Larmor Award winners in a year, and the number reflects the tremendous talent that we have in College at the moment.”

This year’s winners are as follows:

Minaam Abbas, Natural Sciences. (Karachi Grammar School, Pakistan).

In the recommendation to the committee, Minaam’s academic record was described as “spectacular”. He won high-ranking firsts in the exams at the end of each year of his degree and was top of his cohort on the neuroscience paper in his final exams. Minaam participated in the College’s 2015 exchange programme with the California Institute of Technology, where he worked on brain/machine interfaces, helping a team of researchers to develop neural prosthetics for people who have lost the use of their limbs. He has since become a co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of a start-up company called angioClast, which is aiming to develop a revolutionary treatment for brain tumours. Away from his scientific interests, Minaam was both Equal Opportunities Officer and President of the JCR, played hockey for the College, and lacrosse for the University against Oxford. In the final recommendation his tutor remarked: “There is no further space to list all his other activities, prizes and enterprises. Indeed, it would be much quicker to make a list of those things he is not capable of doing!”


Helena Clark-Maxwell, Modern and Medieval Languages. (Mander Portman Woodward School, London). 

Helena came to St John’s after a career as an award-winning professional ballerina and remains the only foreigner ever to have trained at the famed Cuban National Ballet School. She was described as a “first class” scholar with “exemplary grades”, but was also cited as having made major contributions to the life of both the College and the University beyond her studies. Helena served as Head Choreographer and teacher for the Cambridge University Ballet Club, and also choreographed pieces for the Cambridge University Opera Society, taught yoga classes, and worked with the Cambridge Streetbite Society to help feed the homeless in and around the city. Her recommendation states: “Helena serves as an excellent example of a scholar, contributor to both college and university life, and deserving Larmor Award candidate.


Gregor McMillan, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. (Knox Academy, East Lothian)

An outstanding student, Gregor’s second-year dissertation on changes in the Chinese shipping industry in the late 19th Century and its impact on Western firms has been published in an academic history journal – a feat almost unheard of among undergraduate historians. A follow-up article, based on his fourth-year dissertation, is currently under review pending publication. As well as becoming an internationally-recognised expert on the subject of Chinese shipping during the late 19th and 20th Centuries, his interest in boats extended to non-academic pursuits during his time at St John’s, as throughout his degree he was heavily involved in the Lady Margaret Boat Club and was extremely successful in broadening student participation in rowing. His recommendation states: “Beyond these academic and social activities, his friendliness, personal drive, and character is well-known and highly regarded”.


Laura Van Holstein, Human, Social and Political Science. (Bavarian International School, Germany)

Laura is credited with an “exceptional academic record”, with first class performances in all three years. She specialised in Biological Anthropology, and undertook an ambitious study into the ancient DNA of Denisovan humans – an ancient human species which has been identified from a single finger bone and two teeth. Her dissertation on the subject won both a departmental prize and the prize for coming top of the Tripos. Laura was also co-president of the University of Cambridge Biological Anthropology Society and Secretary of the University Riding Club, competing for the latter at intermediate level.


Charles Vitry, Engineering. (British Section, Lycee International, France)

Charles was unable to attend the full awards ceremony as he is currently working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on entrepreneurship in emerging markets. Described as “a genuinely bright, inspiring and inspirational student”, he has an outstanding academic record and has contributed to the wider life of both the College and University in numerous ways. In his second year, he developed a device to encourage eco-friendly practices and raise awareness of electricity consumption in College. He then led the development of a live power consumption feedback interface for student accommodation and trialled this technology in St John’s. Charles was also Project manager and head of logistics for the University’s Eco-Racing team, which develops a solar car for an international race across Australia. Other activities included involvement in the creation of an avocado oil production business in Tanzania. His recommendation states: “As a friendly and outgoing individual, Charles is extremely generous in the time and support he gives to fellow students, and is a gifted communicator and maths tutor.”


Alex Woolf, Music. (Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge)

A former BBC Young Composer of the Year, Alex has continued to pursue his interest in and talent for composition at St John’s and is already winning international renown for his work. His music has been performed by the College’s own world famous choir; by the BBC Symphony Orchestra on Radio 3; and a the Benjamin Britten Centenary Weekend in 2013. Academically, his record was also outstanding and he won firsts during every year of his course. Immersing himself in the College’s rich musical history and culture, he also worked with the city’s vocal ensemble, Cambridge Chorale, several other local choirs, and was both a singer and composer with the College’s own mixed-voice choir, St John’s Voices. He was President of the College’s Music Society and had his work performed extensively in the College Chapel. Alex also found the time to get involved with a University charity which runs music education projects in Zambia during the summer vacation, and travelled to a remote part of the country to teach other young people about music. His recommendation described him as “a dream student”.