Professor Russell Foster, Fellow of Brasenose College, and Professor of Circadian Neurosciences, Head of the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology, Director of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute has been appointed CBE for services to science.
Professor Foster’s interests span both visual and circadian neurobiology with the main focus on the mechanisms whereby light regulates circadian rhythms and sleep. All life on earth has evolved under a rhythmically changing cycle of light and darkness, and organisms from single-celled bacteria up to humans possess an internal representation of time. These 24 hour cycles, termed circadian rhythms, persist in the absence of external cues, and provide a means of anticipating changes in the environment rather than passively responding to them. In mammals, including humans, light provides the critical input to the circadian system, synchronising the body clock to prevailing conditions.
He has co-authored Rhythms of Life, Seasons of Life and most recently Sleep: A Very Short Introduction. These popular science books focus upon the importance of daily and seasonal cycles upon all life including humans. In 2012 he established the Sleep & Circadian Neuroscience Institute (SCNi) at the University of Oxford, which is the first institute in the world dedicated to translating the fundamental neuroscience of sleep and circadian rhythms into improved health and clicnical practice. One of the most eye-catching research project that the Institute is running is Teensleep, where researchers will assess whether starting school at 10:00am rather than 09:00am improves academic performance in a 100 schools across the UK, by allowing teenagers to engage in learning when their biological systems are optimised to do so.
Professor Foster attended the University of Bristol under the supervision of Professor Sir Brian Follett. From 1988–1995 he was a member of the National Science Foundation Center for Biological Timing at the University of Virginia. In 1995 he returned to the UK and established his group at Imperial College, London. For his discovery of non-rod, non-cone ocular photoreceptors he has been awarded numerous awards including the Honma prize (Japan), Cogan award (USA), and Zoological Society Scientific & Edride-Green Medals (UK). He was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 2008 and the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2013. In 2012, he was named Social Innovator of the year and in 2014 conferred the 20th Anniversary Award for Excellence in Bioscience Communication, both given by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). In 2015 he will deliver the Theodore L. Sourkes Lecture at McGill University and is the recipient of the Felberg Foundation prize to promote Anglo-German friendship in biomedical science.
Reflecting on his most recent accolade, Professor Foster commented “The CBE was a complete surprise. When I first looked at the rather formal looking envelope late on a Friday evening back in November my first thought was that I had been called for jury service! I am completely thrilled to receive such an honour, but I would like to stress that this recognition of scientific success has arisen from the collective hard work of many individuals in Oxford”.