Astbury Conversation: Zooming in on the Molecules of Life

Tuesday 26 April 2022
5:00pm - 6:30pm
Esther Simpson Building
General public

Richard Henderson won a Nobel Prize for his work looking into structures of molecules forming the basis of life. Hear his remarkable story.

Richard Henderson is a molecular biologist and biophysicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2017 for his contributions to the development of cryo-electron microscopy - a technique that uses electrons to determine the structure of molecules – and was the first to solve the structure of a protein found in the membrane of a cell.

Using X-rays to analyse bacteriorhodopsin, a light-harvesting protein found in tiny microbes, Richard discovered that it was composed of helices. Then, in collaboration with neuroscientist Nigel Unwin, he uncovered the three-dimensional arrangement of the helices within the bacterial membrane using electron microscopy — pioneering the powerful technique’s use to study biological molecules. Their model was published in the journal Nature. 

His vision, that electron microscopy could be used as a general tool to solve protein structures without needing crystals, took the best part of 40 years to come to fruition, but his achievements have transformed biology.

In 2017, he was awarded the ultimate scientific accolade, sharing the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Jacques Dubochet and Joachim Frank “for developing cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution.

Richard has worked at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge since 1973, and was its Director from 1996–2006. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, and was awarded the Copley Medal - the Society’s highest honour - in 2016. 

Tickets are free, and available on a 'first come, first served' basis: