University of Helsinki Silver medal to Nobel Laureate Sir John Walker

Sir John Walker, Nobel Laureate in chemistry in 1997, was presented with the University of Helsinki Silver medal on 7 May 2019 for his almost 20-year service in the Scientific Advisory Board of the Institute of Biotechnology.

Sir John Walker (b. 1941) has been presented with the University of Helsinki Silver medal for his achievements in the Institute of Biotechnology. He has served in the Scientific Advisory Board of the Institute from 1999 until the end of 2018 by taking part in ten biannual evaluations. In each of these, about ten Group Leaders in the Institute of Biotechnology have been showcasing their scientific achievements in order to be promoted to the next step of their research career.

Sir John Walker was born in 1941 in Halifax, UK. He took his PhD in 1969 in Oxford, and then continued in the University of Wisconsin-Madison and in France during the early seventies. He was invited by Fred Sanger in the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge and was working as a colleague of Francis Crick. There he reached his scientific pinnacle acknowledged by a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1997.

The research of professor Walker has provided an atomic level understanding how the fundamental process in all living cells, the synthesis of ATP, is occuring in cells. His crystallographic studies from bovine heart mitochondria revealed the three catalytic sites in three different conformations imposed by the position of the asymmetric central stalk. This structure supported the binding change mechanism and rotary catalysis for the ATP synthase, one of the catalytic mechanisms proposed by Paul D. Boyer. The Nobel Prize itself was divided between Sir John and Boyer.

Sir John became a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization in 1984 and a Fellow of the Royal Society the following year He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as a honorary member of St. Catharine’s College, Oxford. In 2012, he received the Copley prize. Her Majesty the Queen has knighted Sir John for his achievements in the field of molecular biology.