Two UCL academics elected as Fellows of the Royal Society

Professor Simon Lewis and Professor David Jones
Professor Simon Lewis and Professor David Jones
In recognition for their outstanding contributions to science, Professor Simon Lewis (UCL Geography) and Professor David Jones (UCL Computer Science) have been elected Fellows of the Royal Society.

They are among 80 outstanding researchers, innovators and communicators from around the world who have been elected as the newest Fellows of the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of sciences and the oldest science academy in continuous existence.

Fellowship of the Royal Society is composed of the most distinguished scientists, technologists and engineers from or living and working in the UK and the Commonwealth, alongside a shorter list of Foreign Members.

The Fellows and Foreign Members join the ranks of Stephen Hawking, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Lise Meitner, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar and Dorothy Hodgkin.

Professor Simon Lewis is a field ecologist who studies global environmental change at UCL’s Department of Geography. This unusual combination led to the landmark discovery that the world’s intact tropical forests annually absorbed around 15% of global anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions in recent decades, slowing climate change, but that this uptake is now in decline.

He also described and mapped a major new ecosystem, the central Congo peatlands, which is the world’s largest tropical peatland complex. Most recently he has uncovered its threshold behaviour, absorbing carbon when the climate is wetter and releasing it when it is drier, a significant new feedback in the global carbon cycle.

Professor Lewis said: "I’m quite surprised and really pleased, this honour is very cool. But we should remember that science is a team sport, and my election reflects the hard work of many PhD students, post-doctoral researchers and colleagues from all over the world.

"Given that the world faces rapid climate change, profound biodiversity loss, and myriad other environmental problems, I hope that my election as a Fellow of the Royal Society can open doors to explain the serious situation we find ourselves in, in order that politicians, business leaders and wider society can take commensurate action."

Professor David Jones is the Head of the Bioinformatics Group in UCL’s Department of Computer Science. He is also the Director of the Bloomsbury Centre for Bioinformatics, which is a joint Research Centre between UCL and Birkbeck College and provides bioinformatics training and support services to biomedical researchers.

The broad scope of Professor Jones’ work over 30 years has been on applying new developments in computational science to the analysis of protein sequence and structure. He has remained a world leader in the prediction of protein structure and function from amino acid sequence, and more generally, the application of machine learning techniques to bioinformatics problems. Beyond this, he has also made important early contributions to many other areas in the bioinformatics field, such as protein structure classification and computational protein design.

Professor Jones said: "I’m over the moon and somewhat awed by this news. I’ve always held the Royal Society and the work it does in the highest esteem, and to become a Fellow is just fantastic. I’m pleased not just for myself, but also for my excellent research team, both past and present.

"I think it also helps to highlight the quality of the interdisciplinary research that goes on at UCL, especially between the two departments that I’m a member of, Computer Science and the Division of Biosciences (Structural and Molecular Biology). With all the exciting new opportunities opening up to use AI to push the boundaries in the life sciences, there has never been a better time to be a computational biologist."

Sir Adrian Smith, President of the Royal Society said: "I am delighted to welcome our newest cohort of Fellows. These individuals have pushed forward the boundaries of their respective fields and had a beneficial influence on the world beyond.

"Among this year’s intake are individuals who were at the forefront of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic response, and those working on global challenges, from TB to climate change. They are pioneering scientists and innovators from around the world who have confounded expectations and transformed our thinking.

"This year’s intake have already achieved incredible things, and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so. I look forward to meeting them and following their contributions in future."
  • University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT (0) 20 7679 2000