Robert May, Baron May of Oxford

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The Right Honourable
The Lord May of Oxford
OM AC FRS FAA FTSE FRSN HonFAIB
BobMayHarvard.jpg
Born (1936-01-08) 8 January 1936 (age 78)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Residence England
Citizenship Australia
Fields Theoretical ecology
Institutions Imperial College London
University of Oxford
Alma mater University of Sydney
Notable students George Sugihara
Angela McLean
Martin Nowak
Sunetra Gupta
Notable awards Crafoord Prize (1996)
Balzan Prize
Copley Medal
Life Peer
OM
Companion of the Order of Australia
Kt

Robert McCredie May, Baron May of Oxford, OM, AC, FRS, FAA, FTSE, FRSN, HonFAIB (born 8 January 1936) is an Australian scientist who has been Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government, President of the Royal Society,[1] and a Professor at Sydney and Princeton. He now holds joint professorships at Oxford and Imperial College London.

May is a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, a crossbencher in the House of Lords, and an appointed member of the council of the British Science Association. He is also a member of the Advisory Council for the Campaign for Science and Engineering.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

May was born in Sydney and educated at Sydney Boys High School. He then attended the University of Sydney, where he studied chemical engineering and theoretical physics (B.Sc. 1956) and received a Ph.D. in theoretical physics in 1959.

Career[edit]

Early in his career, May developed an interest in animal population dynamics and the relationship between complexity and stability in natural communities.[3] He was able to make major advances in the field of population biology through the application of mathematical techniques. His work played a key role in the development of theoretical ecology through the 1970s and 1980s. He also applied these tools to the study of disease and to the study of biodiversity.

May was Gordon MacKay Lecturer in Applied Mathematics at Harvard University (1959–61) and returned to the University of Sydney (1962) as Senior Lecturer, Reader, and Professor (1969–72) in Theoretical Physics. From 1973 until 1988, he was Class of 1977 Professor of Zoology at Princeton University, serving as Chairman of the University Research Board 1977–88. From 1988 until 1995, he held a Royal Society Research Professorship jointly at Imperial College London and the University of Oxford, where became a Fellow of Merton College and a Master of Arts. He was Chief Scientific Adviser to HM Government and head of the Office of Science and Technology (1995–2000), and President of the Royal Society (2000-5).

Public life[edit]

May has held subsidiary appointments as Executive Trustee of the Nuffield Foundation, member of the Board of the United Kingdom Sports Institute, Foundation Trustee of the Gates Trust (University of Cambridge), Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Natural History Museum, Trustee of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Independent Member of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Trustee of World Wildlife Fund-UK, and President of the British Ecological Society.

In 1996, May asked Ig Nobel to stop awarding prizes to British scientists because this might lead the public to treat worthwhile research less seriously (see Criticism of Ig Nobel).

Climate change co-operation[edit]

Although an atheist since age 11, May has stated that religion may help society deal with climate change. While referring to what he believes to be a rigid structure of fundamentalist religion, he stated that the co-operational aspects of non-fundamentalist religion may in fact help with climate change. When asked if religious leaders should be doing more to persuade people to combat climate change, he stated that it was absolutely necessary.[4]

Honours[edit]

May was appointed Knight Bachelor in 1996,[5] and a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1998. In 2001, on the recommendation of the House of Lords Appointments Commission, he was created a life peer. He was one of the first fifteen peers to be elevated in this manner. After his initial preference for "Baron May of Woollahra" failed an objection from the Protocol Office of the Australian Prime Minister's Department, he chose the style and title Baron May of Oxford, of Oxford in the County of Oxfordshire.[6][7] He was made a member of the Order of Merit in 2002.[8]

He was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1979, a Corresponding Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 1991, a Foreign Member of the United States National Academy of Sciences in 1992, to the Academia Europaea in 1994 and Fellow of the Royal Society of New South Wales in 2010.[9] In 2009 Lord May became only the 7th ever Honorary Fellow of the Australian Institute of Building (HonFAIB).[10] He has received honorary degrees from universities including Uppsala (1990), Yale (1993), Sydney (1995), Princeton (1996), and the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (2003). He has been awarded the Weldon Memorial Prize by the University of Oxford (1980), an Award by the MacArthur Foundation (1984), the Medal of the Linnean Society of London (1991), the Marsh Christian Prize (1992), the Frink Medal by the Zoological Society of London (1995), the Crafoord Prize (1996), the Balzan Prize (1998) for Biodiversity and the Copley Medal by the Royal Society (2007).

Personal life[edit]

During his postdoctoral research at the Division of Engineering and Applied Physics at Harvard University as Gordon MacKay Lecturer in Applied Mathematics, between 1959 and 1961, May met his wife, Judith, a native of Manhattan.[11][12] The Mays have a daughter, Naomi.[11]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Bradbury, J. (2000). "Sir Robert May: A new face at the Royal Society". The Lancet 356 (9227): 406–736. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)73556-X. PMID 10972381.  edit
  2. ^ "Advisory Council of the Campaign for Science and Engineering". Retrieved 2011-02-11. 
  3. ^ May, R. M. (1976). "Simple mathematical models with very complicated dynamics". Nature 261 (5560): 459–467. doi:10.1038/261459a0. PMID 934280.  edit
  4. ^ Richard Alleyne, "Maybe religion is the answer" claims-atheist-scientist, The Daily Telegraph, 7 September 2009]
  5. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 54255. p. 2. 30 December 1995.
  6. ^ The London Gazette: no. 56282. p. 8681. 23 July 2001.
  7. ^ Annabel Crabb, Good Lord, he said what?,The Sunday Age, 20 November 2005
  8. ^ The London Gazette: no. 56746. p. 13557. 8 November 2002.
  9. ^ "Fellows of RSNSW". RSNSW. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  10. ^ The first six honorary fellows of the Australian Institute of Building (HonFAIB) are: HRH Prince Philip, Sir Eric Neil AC CVO, Janet Holmes a'Court AC, James Service AO, Sir Laurence Street AC KCMG QC, and Sir John Holland AC [vale]. Subsequent appointments are Professor Marie Bashir AC CVO and Dr Kenneth Michael AC. "Life and Honorary Fellows". Australian Institute of Building. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  11. ^ a b "Lord Robert May". Australian Academy of Science. 
  12. ^ May, Robert McCredie. (2001.) Stability and Complexity in Model Ecosystems, Princeton University Press.

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Sir William Stewart
Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government
1995–2000
Succeeded by
Sir David King