According to Wikipedia, only 12 English schools have ever taught a future Nobel laureate. You need, of course, to judge Wikipedia carefully, because it also says that Bedford School taught two. The first one, however, is sadly a myth. Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of radio and winner of a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1909, did grow up in Bedford, but it was his older brother Alfonso who attended this school, while he himself was home educated. However, you have all heard of Dr Archer Martin, who was educated here in the 1920s and won a Nobel Prize in 1952 for developing a process called partition chromatography, which itself led to the discovery of the first amino acid sequence in insulin, for which Dr Frederick Sanger won the Nobel Prize in 1958. Sanger’s name, of course, is now associated with the Sanger institute in Cambridge, where Laurence Pleuger and others were working last year on the mapping of the genome for human whipworm.
Three interesting facts about our Nobel Prize winner, Archer Martin. Firstly, he was dyslexic and could not read properly until he was eight years old. I know that much more is known about dyslexia now, but there can still be stigma – and if this knowledge disrupts that for you, then so it should: Leonardo da Vinci and Einstein were dyslexics too. Secondly, he developed Alzheimer’s disease later in life and became a volunteer for a new drug to treat it which is now widely used. Lastly, he was sacked by Houston University for not publishing enough academic papers. Indeed, most scientists of his ilk would have published about 200 papers in their lifetime; he published only 70.
Today we are going to give out some rather more modest prizes, but prizes for academic achievement nevertheless, and extremely well done to all the winners. We will do academic stripes today and colours on Friday. There are two key messages I would like to give to you all which are pertinent to this year’s winners. Firstly, we celebrate their hard work, rather than simply the final outcome. Nothing, as I mentioned last week, comes easy. There is little point in celebrating success for its own sake – you are in fact celebrating all the hours behind the scenes which went into that success. So well done, boys, for all your efforts which led to the great results. However, in doing so, we do not forget others as well. Many others made the effort too and you share this award with them, and indeed sharing is the second message. Certainly the most enjoyable thing about obtaining knowledge is sharing it. It is, I think, of some interest that Archer Martin, absolutely amazing scientist that he was, was sacked for not publishing enough work. Who am I to pass any judgement whatsoever, of course, but it is interesting nonetheless. So in congratulating this year’s winners, I also urge them to share their excellence. Keep working hard at your own work, and keep encouraging those around you by sharing, by setting an open example, by working together. It will help the whole school to enjoy your successes. Well done. I am now going to call forward those boys who will receive their academic stripes.