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The Rosalind Franklin Institute, a new national Institute for life sciences, has announced that Professor James Naismith will become its first director. The Institute, funded through UK Research and Innovation, will develop novel interdisciplinary technologies drawing on engineering and physical sciences to advance the life sciences.

Professor James Naismith

Professor Naismith has a distinguished career in research and research leadership, blending structural analysis, mechanistic study and developing new approaches biochemistry to answer chemical problems in biology. He held the Bishop Wardlaw Chair at St Andrews, moving to Oxford in 2017 as Director of the Research Complex at Harwell and Professor of Structural Biology at Oxford University. He has been interim co-academic lead and leader of the structural biology theme at the Rosalind Franklin Institute since 2017, and will join as the inaugural Director in June 2019.


Lord Henley, Life Sciences Minister, said “We have a long history of pioneering research in one of the strongest life sciences sectors in the world, attracting the most inward investment in Europe and supporting 240,000 UK jobs.

“Our modern Industrial Strategy sets out the challenges of our ageing society and, following in the spirit of Rosalind Franklin herself, the Institute under Professor Naismith’s leadership will work to develop the revolutionary science to help us all live longer, happier lives.”


Dr Vivienne Cox, Chair of the Institute says “There are few researchers who combine Jim’s academic excellence with a proven ability to lead the delivery of large and ambitious projects like the Institute. He has already demonstrated incredible vision in the work carried out on developing the Institute, and in setting out a clear community vision for structural biology. I look forward to working with him as Director bringing together industry and academia together to advance life science.”

Conceived to drive innovation in life science through the development of novel technology, the Institute combines expertise in engineering, physical and life sciences from across our network of ten leading university partners with industrial input from both technology and pharmaceutical firms.  The Institute hub, constructed on the Harwell campus by the Institute partner UKRI-STFC, will open in 2020.

Professor Naismith said “It is a huge honour to lead the Rosalind Franklin Institute, and I look forward to honouring the spirit of the Institute’s illustrious namesake -  an interdisciplinary researcher whose pioneering application technology changed life science profoundly.

“Many of our technologies will focus on the ability to better image biological samples, from an atomic to cellular level, incorporating the ability to watch processes in real time. We believe that true breakthroughs in technology are within reach which will make the molecular world of the cell more accessible than ever. This will have massive implications for disease understanding and health. It’s going to be an enormous team effort, but we have the ingredients here at Harwell and through our national partners to make the Institute truly world leading.”

Professor Lynn Gladden, Executive Chair of UKRI’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), said: “Professor Naismith is the ideal person to lead the Rosalind Franklin Institute. He is widely respected across the scientific community and will draw together the multidisciplinary talent that will be needed to bring success to the Institute and the UK’s Life Sciences sector.”

Professor Andrew Livingston, current co-academic lead at the Institute, will act as Interim director until Professor Naismith takes up post in June 2019.


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