Sir Paul Nurse: University of Bristol’s New Chancellor!
On Wednesday, 22nd of March, marked a monumental day. And with most monumental events in Bristol, it took place in the Great Hall of the Will’s Memorial Building. So, after a failed session of attempting to write up notes on heart arrhythmias, I skedaddled down to the post office room, because I forgot my admission ticket was mailed to us personally, and rushed out at approximately 6:35pm.
I walk into the foyer, and enter the Great Hall with uttermost shock – there, right in the centre above the audience, hangs a 1:500,000 scale reproduction of the moon’s surface. It’s part the Museum of the Moon exhibit, conceived & created by Bristol-based artist Luke Jerram, happening on the weekend. I mean, outer space. That is my absolute dream, my version of a fairy-tale without the fancy bits of characterisation, the embodiment of every single star-gazing app on my iPhone. Since the event was in honour of Sir Paul Nurse whose work was on fission yeast that eventually led him to win the Nobel Prize of Physiology or Medicine in 2001 (in conjunction with Tim Hunt), there were projected electron microscopic images of Schizosaccharomyces pombe on the walls. Being in that place, surrounded by just raw science rooted in curiosity from the incredibly detailed craters on the moon (I saw Newton’s crater) to the rod-shaped cells swirling around, I might have almost teared up. Almost.
I won’t dwell too much on the actual programme details – it was a beautiful ceremony, with great background music by the prestigious Bristol Hornstars (fantastic jazz band that I was so confident about joining back last summer but too intimidated when I heard them play), and the opening ceremony. Let me just say, in the latter, there was a performance by the poetry & creative writing society of Bristol’s SU, and it was this grand poem of the journey and advancements in science. I mean, yes, it was very delightful, but…“like how the microorganisms festered in the library textbooks” and “oh, like yeast, *looks up to a higher power* let my mind grooow…”? I appreciated the science metaphors but it was a tad difficult to take seriously. Hey, wasn’t just me – the professors around me were a choir of collected muffling of laughter.
Moving on swiftly…the installation itself. Watching the robing of Sir Paul Nurse and presentation of the ceremonial items felt all very royal – one of the items included the key used by King George V to open the Wills Memorial Building in 1925, and the new chancellor made sure the audience could catch a glimpse of it. And then his address. Wow, I’ll just say, I was blown away by the end of it. I’ll admit, initially I found myself zoning out occasionally as he went on about the merits of education and university, but it’s hard to get bored by him, because he is a fantastic speaker. He talked about 9-year-old him in his pyjamas on his front porch watching Sputnik-2 being launched, and the long & lonely walks back from school that allowed him to observe spiderwebs and growth of nature which fuelled his curiosity of science. And to think, just over a year ago, I had been reading about his discovery in the IB Higher Biology textbook in the Nature of Science box, thinking, “Man, just imagine…” With a very subtle lisp and a razor-sharp enunciation of his words, there was only one word I could describe his entire presence: historical.
I don’t know. Maybe it was the moon. Maybe it was the Great Hall’s beautiful architecture that dates way back. Maybe it was the spirit of the predecessors, including Winston Churchill, that I felt throughout the ceremony. But to me, it was all history. Sir Paul Nurse’s history of his childhood, the Great Hall’s history, the ceremonial item’s history, science’s history…and suddenly, I had this sudden urge even greater than before, to be part of that. To be part of history. I want to do something great and meaningful. I can only do so much but I’ll try my best as I’ve always done.
I was in a bit of a daze afterwards – from the Elderflower Champagne at the drink’s reception, meeting my lecturers (pharmacology gang), racing up the stairs with a friend to gaze at the moon again, trespassing up into the high levels via steep winding stairs for better views, silhouette photos against the moon backdrop, sprinting back home at 8:48pm realising I’ve got a pre-practical quiz that I have to do before 9:00pm, getting 100% on said quiz (took literally 4 minutes), and eating a forgotten dinner. It was such a fantastic event, and I am grateful I had the opportunity to go (respond to your emails fast!). Really, I could say more about how inspiring the entire event was and how excited it makes me to know Paul Nurse is Bristol’s new chancellor, but it wouldn’t end if I began. So, here’s to an incredible future of science that I dream to be a part of.