Image credit: Ian Wallman
Encaenia honorands 2019 L-R: Professor Shafi Goldwasser, Yo-Yo Ma, Professor Andrea Ghez, Professor Jennifer Doudna, Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Professor Sir Simon Wessely and Dr Cyrus Poonawalla. Image credit: Ian Wallman

Honorary degrees awarded at Encaenia 2019

Celebrated cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and acclaimed astronomer Professor Andrea Ghez were among the recipients of honorary degrees at Encaenia today (26 June 2019).

The two received their accolades at the Sheldonian Theatre, alongside; International musician Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, billionaire philanthropist Dr Cyrus Poonawalla, Professor Jennifer Doudna, Professor of Chemistry, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology at the University of California Berkeley, Professor Sir Simon Wessely, psychiatrist and President of the Royal Society of Medicine, and Professor Shafi Goldwasser, computer scientist and winner of the 2012 Turing Award. Crowds of onlookers gathered to watch the striking procession as the honorands moved along the cobbled streets of Oxford’s town centre to receive their honorary degrees.

Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, and Chair of the Committee on Honorary Degrees, said: 'Encaenia is the highlight of the university year. It gives us a wonderful opportunity to recognise achievement across the arts and sciences and most importantly it proves an opportunity to celebrate remarkable people from across the world who have exemplified the university’s commitment to research, to teaching and to improving the world around us.'

The honorands’ biographies are as follows:

Professor Jennifer A. Doudna is Professor of Chemistry and Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2012, she and her team made a major discovery of a simple way of editing the DNA of any organism. This technology – CRISPR Cas9 - has significant implications for human and non-human applications of gene editing, including assisting researchers tackling HIV, sickle cell disease and muscular dystrophy. She has received numerous prestigious awards for her research, including the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences (2015), and is the co-author of A Crack in Creation, a personal account of her research and the societal and ethical implications of gene editing.

Professor Andrea Ghez is an astronomer and Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is one of the world’s leading experts in observational astrophysics and is best known for her groundbreaking work on the centre of the Galaxy, which has uncovered the best evidence to date for the existence of supermassive black holes. She was the first woman to receive a Crafoord prize in 2012 and has won numerous other prestigious honours for her work. She is dedicated to communicating science to the general public and to inspiring girls into the field.

Professor Shafi Goldwasser is a computer scientist and the RSA Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). With research interests spanning cryptography, computational number theory, complexity theory, and beyond, she has made major contributions to the field, including the introduction of zero-knowledge interactive proofs. She was the recipient of the ACM Turing Award in 2012 and has received numerous other awards and honours. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, National Academy of Science and the National Academy of Engineering, and Israeli National Academy of Science. She is also a foreign member of the Russian National Academy of Science, and a London Royal Mathematical Society Honorary Member.

Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan is a Pakistani singer, primarily of Qawwali, a devotional music of the Muslim Sufis. Born into a family whose name has become synonymous with South Asian musical tradition, he began formal training at the age of seven and has since released more than fifty albums, performed in numerous high-profile concerts across the world, and amassed a global following, achieving over one billion views online. He has sung more than fifty title tracks of television serials and over one hundred film songs in both Hollywood and Bollywood.

Mr Yo-Yo Ma is a world-renowned cellist whose celebrated career has involved performing new and familiar works from the cello repertoire and engaging unexpected musical forms. His discography of over 100 albums, including 19 Grammy Award winners, includes renditions of the Western classical canon as well as music from genres and traditions from across the world. In 1998 he established Silkroad, a collective of artists from around the globe, and he has worked with communities and institutions from Chicago to Guangzhou. He has received many prestigious awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2010), and performed for eight American presidents.

Dr Cyrus Poonawalla is the Founder and Chairman of the Serum Institute of India. Founded in 1966, the Serum Institute is now the world’s largest manufacturer of life-saving vaccines by number of doses, producing more than 1.5 billion doses a year that are used in over 170 countries. With Dr Poonawalla’s vision the Serum Institute has reached the unmatched figure of protecting more than two-thirds of the infant population globally. He is also a generous philanthropist, focusing on public causes and underserved communities.

Professor Sir Simon Wessely is Regius Professor of Psychiatry at King’s College London and a Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist at King’s College and the Maudsley Hospitals. In a career spanning general hospital psychiatry as well as academia, Sir Simon has particular interests in unexplained symptoms and syndromes, population reactions to adversity, and military health. He founded the King’s Centre for Military Health Research; has published books on chronic fatigue syndrome, randomised controlled trials, and a history of military psychiatry; and regularly contributes to discussions on science and medicine on radio and television.

Professor Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner and Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs Emeritus at Princeton University, was regrettably unable to attend Encaenia this year.