Scotland’s top school for nobel prize winners

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By Margaret Little

There is only one school in Scotland that has two Nobel Laureates amongst its former pupils and this unique achievement is being celebrated in a one-day conference in September.

John Boyd Orr and Alexander Fleming both attended Kilmarnock Academy and even though only a year separated them in age, they did not know each other.   Fleming won his Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1945 for discovering penicillin and Boyd Orr, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1949 for his work in human nutrition.

Stuart Wilson, president of Kilmarnock and District History Group, said: “This is a unique opportunity to celebrate the lives of two of Ayrshire’s most distinguished sons and the fact Kilmarnock Academy is one of only two schools in Britain – and the only one in Scotland – to have generated more than one Nobel Laureate.”

The other school to have produced more than one Nobel prize winner is the private school, Eton College in Windsor.

The conference, which is open to all, is to honour their achievements, increase local awareness of Fleming and Boyd Orr and to look at the role of the school itself in producing a steady stream of notable scientists.

The event is part of Glasgow Caledonian University’s outreach programme, connecting the university with local communities and is a joint venture between the University and the Ayrshire Federation of Historical Societies (AFHS), with the active co-operation of SNP run East Ayrshire Council. It is financially supported by the Wellcome Trust through the Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare, Glasgow.

The conference will be led by renowned scientist Hugh Pennington, Professor of Bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen.  Invited speakers will cover the lives and works of Fleming and Boyd Orr and the importance of their local upbringing to their later achievements.

Keynote speakers include Professor John Stewart on ‘Science and Medicine in Scotland in the First Half of the Twentieth Century’; Professor Catriona MacDonald on ‘Scottish Education at the Turn of the Twentieth Century’; and Professor Elaine McFarland on ‘John Boyd Orr: The Making of a Global Citizen’. All three are history professors at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Their colleague, Professor Robert Pyper, Head of the Social Sciences Department, will speak about ‘John Boyd Orr: Idealism, Pragmatism, and Social Justice’.

Putting Fleming in his historical context is Kevin Brown, Curator of the Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum in London.

Dr Neil Dickson, Chairman of the AFHS – as well as being a former English teacher at the school – will speak about Kilmarnock Academy in the 19th century, “a most interesting stage in its development”.

Councillor Jim Roberts, Spokesperson for Lifelong Learning on East Ayrshire Council, said: “Kilmarnock Academy has produced many notable former pupils and Sir Alexander Fleming and Lord Boyd Orr are famous all over the world for their important discoveries.
“I would recommend this conference to anyone who has an interest in local history or science. It promises to be a remarkable day”.

The conference will take place in the Assembly Hall of Kilmarnock Academy in Elmbank Drive, Kilmarnock, on Saturday, 24 September 2011. An accompanying exhibition will be displayed in the Memorial Hall, an attractive feature of the school’s late 19th century main building.

If you’d like to attend, don’t just turn up on the day. Please register, preferably by email, to flemingboydorr@gmail.com , or by post, to Rhona Blincow, Centre for Social History of Health and Heathcare, Glasgow Caledonian University, Cowcaddens Road, Glasgow G4 0BA.