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Honorary degrees awarded at the University of Bristol – Wednesday, 11 February

Press release issued: 11 February 2015

The University of Bristol is awarding honorary degrees to Professor Russell Foster CBE and Professor David Clarke, plus an honorary fellowship to Professor Jeffrey Watkins, at degree ceremonies taking place today [11 February] in the Wills Memorial Building.

A Doctor of Science degree will be presented to Professor Russell Foster CBE, a leading scientist whose research has transformed our understanding of how the eye detects light and redefined the clinical diagnosis of blindness.

An expert in ‘circadian rhythms’ – the 24 hour rhythmically changing cycle of light and darkness – he’s been active in developing new approaches to understanding and treating the pervasive problem of sleep and circadian rhythm disruption in psychiatric illness.

Having graduated with a BSc in Zoology in 1980 and a PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Bristol in 1984, Professor Foster is currently Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at the University of Oxford, where he’s Head of the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology and Director of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute (SCNi).

He’s a fellow of the Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences and was recently awarded a CBE for services to science in the 2015 New Year honours.

Professor David Clarke, former Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol, will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in recognition of the key role he’s played in the governance of the University over the last 20 years.

Educated at Lincoln School and Queens’ College, Cambridge, Professor Clarke practised as a solicitor until he was appointed a Lecturer in Law at the University of Bristol in 1977 and Professor of Law in 1995.

Professor Clarke served as Head of Department and Dean of the Faculty of Law, before becoming a Pro Vice-Chancellor from 2004 to 2008 and the University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor from 2008 until his retirement last year.

Pioneering chemist Professor Jeffrey Watkins will receive an Honorary Fellowship - the highest honour the University of Bristol can bestow.  The title is bestowed on an individual who has attained distinction in their academic field or has contributed consistently and over a significant period of time to the life of the University.

Professor Watkins is being honoured for his scientific work on glutamate receptors and their role as a chemical transmitter in the brain.

He worked in the Departments of Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of Bristol from 1973 to 1999, during which time he was responsible for the identification of a family of glutamate receptors known as N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors.

Professor Watkins went on to develop drugs which were used to identify roles for NMDA receptors in a range of brain functions, including in learning and memory and in brain development.

These drugs also provided far-reaching insights into neurodegenerative conditions such as ischaemic stroke and Alzheimer’s disease and into neurological and psychiatric disorders such as epilepsy, schizophrenia and chronic pain.

Further information

The official photographs and speeches delivered by the public orators at each ceremony are available to the media on request from the University's Press Office. Please email

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