Professor Martin Howard receives prestigious Institute of Physics Award

Professor Martin Howard has been awarded the 2022 Institute of Physics Rosalind Franklin Medal. 

The prestigious award recognises Professor Howard’s pioneering work in applying concepts from statistical physics to molecular biology.  

In a series of successful collaborations Professor Howard’s group at the John Innes Centre has helped to unlock diverse biological questions around cell memory systems, spaciotemporal protein patterning and cell size control. 

More broadly, over the past 15 years, Professor Howard has introduced physics-based thinking to a wide community of biologists. 

Professor Howard, a group leader at the John Innes Centre commented: “It’s a tremendous honour to be awarded the Rosalind Franklin medal from the Institute of Physics, recognising interdisciplinary science at the interface between physics and biology.  

“Most of all I’d like to thank the incredibly talented students and postdocs who made it all possible. The collaborative nature of science at the John Innes Centre has also been a critical component and I’d like to thank all the groups I’ve worked with here, particularly those led by Caroline Dean, Alison Smith, Mark Buttner, Peter Shaw, Graham Moore, Daniel Zilberman and Chris Morgan.” 

Professor Howard’s achievements recognised by the Institute of Physics include:  

  • Introducing reaction-diffusion models to explain subcellular protein patterning, particularly in the context of the Min proteins in Escherichia coli that determine midcell division positioning.  
  • Transforming our understanding of cell memory systems in the field of epigenetics, by introducing the idea of digital memory storage where multicellular organisms can register external changes (e.g., cold temperature) by altering the fraction of cells that make a digital memory switch.  
  • Working on models of metabolic resource allocation, where an arithmetic division computation is generated by analogue chemical kinetics.  
  • Proposing a new theory of cell size control in fission yeast via membrane area measurement.  
  • Introducing a completely new framework for how crossover sites are selected in meiosis through a competitive coarsening mechanism. 

The Institute of Physics (IOP) is the professional body and learned society for physics, and the leading body for practising physicists, in the UK and Ireland.  

Its annual awards proudly reflect the wide variety of people, places, organisations and achievements that make physics such an exciting discipline. 

The IOP awards celebrate physicists at every stage of their career; from those just starting out through to physicists at the peak of their careers, and those with a distinguished career behind them.  

They also recognise and celebrate companies which are successful in the application of physics and innovation, as well as employers who demonstrate their commitment and contribution to scientific and engineering apprenticeship schemes. 

Congratulating this year’s Award winners, Institute of Physics President, Professor Sheila Rowan, said: 

“On behalf of the Institute of Physics, I warmly congratulate all of this year’s Award winners. 

“Each and every one of them has made a significant and positive impact in their profession, whether as a researcher, teacher, industrialist, technician, or apprentice. 

“Recent events have underlined the absolute necessity to encourage and reward our scientists and those who teach and encourage future generations. We rely on their dedication and innovation to improve many aspects of the lives of individuals and of our wider society.” 

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