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Honorary Graduate's Speech: Professor David King, Doctor of Science (DSc)

Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government and Head of the Office of Science and Technology, Professor King's honorary degree was awarded for his contribution to science. Professor King is a Fellow of the Royal Society and has been Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Cambridge since 1988. He received his honorary degree on Thursday, July 11 during the morning degree ceremony. The following is his response after the degree ceremony oration.

Vice Chancellor, fellow graduands, ladies and gentlemen. My first comment is that it's a little like hearing your obituary in advance. I have indeed been privileged throughout my career in being allowed to pursue my curiosity in one aspect of how nature works and that is solid surfaces as you have heard. 

That venture brought me into the field at this fortunate point of time when it was a mere dream that we would understand the atomic and electronic and molecular properties or surfaces at the sort of level understanding that was being developed in other areas of chemistry that Peter Atkins’s books so beautifully discuss.

And coming into the field at that point of time meant that climbing up the ladder from the bottom rung has been an utterly exhilarating experience.  But I have to tell you that climbing that ladder was by no means a lonely business and so the first thing I would do is pay tribute to those people in research groups throughout the period of time, have done the thinking and the working that the underlay the developments that the Orator has put before you.

Those young people in working with them has given me really the greatest pleasure in watching their development. That to be honest is watching the development of the science in their hands and I think what we now see is the massive power of computing, the massive improvement of instrumentation that means we can now tackle problems of such complexity that we wouldn’t have dared tackle without the degree of rigger and quantitative understanding that is now emerging.

And I see that as the new ladder that is appearing before us today - the ladder that leads into detailed understanding of extremely complex phenomena - and of course this means that we’re moving in to an era when interdiscipline is going to play a stronger and stronger role.

If I just mention one matter of complexity that I am now dealing with, wearing this government hat - and that is climate change. What we need is good modelling of what is happening in terms of climate change, what has happened over the last 50 – 1,000 years, so that we can predict what will happen in the future and make policy decisions that will allow us to move forward in a safe environment.

And the modelling that is currently being done of the whole earth - the global modelling - is really quite phenomenal. In that particular enterprise I must stress that with the core discipline knowledge of the job are a whole range of people - mathematicians, physicists, chemists, economists, sociologists. There is a interdiscipline in that business that is necessary to treat it with the detailed level of complexity - and I see that as the threshold that we’re now standing on. For those of us who are fortunate to be graduating today - and I am counting myself amongst the numbers - no day career is not over yet.

Those of us who are fortunate to be graduating today I think are faced with these magnificent challenges. There is still plenty of room for us to work through, of course, and I feel greatly honoured to be standing before you in this great University today.  Vice Chancellor, colleagues, many thanks.

July 2002

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Last updated: 19 July 2002 17:00
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