Robert May, Baron May of Oxford
|The Right Honourable
The Lord May of Oxford
OM, AC, FRS, FAA, FTSE, FRSN, HonFAIB
8 January 1938 |
|Institutions||Imperial College London
University of Oxford
|Alma mater||University of Sydney|
|Notable students||George Sugihara
|Notable awards||Crafoord Prize
Member of the Order of Merit
Companion of the Order of Australia
Robert McCredie May, Baron May of Oxford, OM, AC, FRS, FAA, FTSE, FRSN, HonFAIB (born 8 January 1938) is an Australian scientist who has been Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government, President of the Royal Society, 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.
Early life and education
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.
Early in his career, May developed an interest in animal population dynamics and the relationship between complexity and stability in natural communities. 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 1877 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).
He 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). He was appointed Knight Bachelor in 1996, 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. He was made a member of the Order of Merit in 2002.
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. In 2009 Lord May became only the 7th ever Honorary Fellow of the Australian Institute of Building (HonFAIB). 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).
Climate change co-operation
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.
- 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.
- "Advisory Council of the Campaign for Science and Engineering". Retrieved 2011-02-11.
- May, R. M. (1976). "Simple mathematical models with very complicated dynamics". Nature 261 (5560): 459–467. doi:10.1038/261459a0. PMID 934280.
- Annabel Crabb, Good Lord, he said what?,The Sunday Age, 20 November 2005
- "Fellows of RSNSW". RSNSW. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
- 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 Sevice 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.
- Richard Alleyne, "Maybe religion is the answer" claims-atheist-scientist, The Daily Telegraph, 7 September 2009]
- Lord (Robert) May of Oxford Biography
- Profile of Robert May: the Recipient of the 2001 Blue Planet Prize
- Bush Accused of "Fiddling While World Burns" by Ignoring Climate Change
- A commentary on Robert May's request to Ignobel by the Guardian
- Speech made at the end of Lord May's presidency of the Royal Society
- Audio: Robert May in conversation on the BBC World Service discussion show The Forum
- Video: Interview with Cambridge University Television following the 2011 Darwin College Lecture Series
- The Australian Institute of Building 
Sir William Stewart
|Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government
Sir David King