The Max Perutz Prize awarded to Professor John R. Helliwell


The Max Perutz Prize of the European Crystallographic Association has been awarded to Professor John R. Helliwell, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, University of Manchester for “his long, generous and fruitful dedication to developing all aspects of the use of synchrotron radiation for crystallography and for his boosting support to global development of synchrotron and neutron facilities”. Prof. Helliwell is the latest in a long line of distinguished crystallographers, including George Sheldrick, Eleanor Dodson and David Stuart to receive this award. We, at the ESRF, celebrate this excellent news with John R. Helliwell who, over the years, has been a key figure encouraging and aiding in the development of our facility and has been a regular user of both the synchrotron and neutron facilities on the EPN Campus.

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Prof. Helliwell has been involved, first at SRS, Daresbury then at ESRF and elsewhere, for over 40 years in the development of instrumentation and methods for synchrotron radiation, supporting the first phase of the ESRF in his role as Chair of the ESRF Macromolecular Crystallography (MX) Working Group which defined an initial ESRF generic undulator, multipole wiggler and bending magnet instruments for MX and championing the use of synchrotron radiation in exploiting anomalous scattering for the phasing of macromolecular crystal structures. He was also both Vice-Chair and Chair of the ESRF SAC and Chairman of the Biological Crystallography ILL Neutron Beam Committee. Of his role at the ESRF, Prof. Helliwell says: “ESRF has always been and is a world-leading initiative and delivers, through all Europe’s synchrotron radiation scientists working as a team, the most outstanding performances possible. I am glad to have played a role especially in its earliest development.”

As a member of the SACs of the APS in Chicago, CXS in Melbourne and ALBA in Spain, Prof. Helliwell helped boost support for the global development of synchrotron facilities and he has been an unstinting supporter of the use of neutron facilities for MX. In addition to his achievements and his key role in the development of experimental beamlines for structural biology worldwide, Prof. Helliwell has also been constantly engaged in outreach and dissemination of crystallography to the scientific community. In particular his book ‘Macromolecular Crystallography with Synchrotron Radiation’ (1993) has been an indispensable introduction to the field for generations of Structural Biologists.

“I have been involved over approximately four decades with synchrotron radiation instrumentation and methods development, including the very important services to industry, at the UK’s Daresbury SRS and also supporting the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility initiative in numerous ways, firstly at CERN in Geneva (where the ESRP was based) and then in Grenoble as well as various SR Facility Advisory Committee roles. At the outset I was Leader of the ESRF Macromolecular Crystallography Working Group (defining generic undulator, multipole wiggler and MAD BM instruments), became an ESRF and EMBL Consultant, I was Vice-Chairman (and then Chairman) of ESRF SAC, and thereby represented SAC on the  ESRF MAC and ESRF Council. As one objective measure I would offer that these developments at SRS and ESRF have very significantly assisted the expansion of the Protein Data Bank, in both number and the complexity of biological structures, and the knowledge and applications they enable. As spin off they have significantly assisted the pharmaceuticals’ discovery process. I have also endeavoured to carry what I have learnt at SRS and ESRF to other SR facilities and projects Worldwide with periods of service on their SACs for the APS in Chicago, CXS in Melbourne and ALBA in Spain”, explains John R Helliwell.

Prof. Helliwell continues to drive issues of general interest in the field of crystallography and is Chair of the IUCr Diffraction Data Deposition Working Group which will report on the currently ‘hot’ topic of the deposition of primary diffraction images and accompanying metadata in order to allow their retrieval for reanalysis, software and methods development, validation and review.     

Prof. Helliwell will receive his prize at the 29th European Crystallographic Meeting in Rovinj (Croatia), 23-28 August 2015. 

Top image: Professor John R. Helliwell on the EPN Campus, February 2015. Photo copyright ILL/S. Claisse.