Southampton scientists recognised in Queen’s New Year’s Honours

Two University of Southampton scientists have been recognised in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list. Emeritus Professor Paul Tyler has been awarded an MBE and Visiting Professor Peter Sonksen an OBE.

Professor Tyler, who was based at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS) has been awarded the honour as a result of his research into deep-sea biology, whilst Professor Sonksen has been recognised for his role in the development of an anti-doping test for growth hormone – used successfully at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Professor Paul Tyler

Using the Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) Isis, which can observe the sea bed at depths of four miles, Professor Tyler recently led a £3.2m research programme to Antarctica. The research expedition revealed communities of species previously unknown to science on the seafloor near Antarctica, clustered in the hot, dark environment surrounding hydrothermal vents. Working from the Royal Research Ship James Cook, the team discovered new species of yeti crab, starfish, barnacles and sea anemones, as well as an unidentified pale octopus. These unique species suggest that, globally, vent ecosystems may be much more diverse, and their interactions more complex, than previously thought.

Professor Tyler, who received news of the honour on the day of his retirement from the University of Southampton, says: “I am surprised and delighted to be receiving an MBE. I have supervised 50 PhD students in my career - of which at least 12 are making their own significant contribution in various research institutes to deep-sea biology. When I started out in this field, I was the only UK academic actively going to sea.”

The first deep-sea research trip Professor Tyler undertook was to the Rockall Trough in the North-East Atlantic in 1977. Since then, he has participated in 70 deep-sea cruises, a number of which have seen him lead international teams of researchers to abyssal plains, submarine canyons, coral reefs, vents and cold seeps, and the deep waters off the Antarctic Peninsula. He adds: “Hydrothermal vents are home to animals found nowhere else on the planet. The recent discovery of such vents in Antarctic waters has been one of the holy grails of deep-sea biology. Here, hydrothermal vents, including ‘black smokers’ reaching temperatures of up to 382 degrees Celsius, create a unique environment that lacks sunlight, but is rich in certain chemicals.”

Professor Peter Sonksen

Professor Peter Sonksen’s research into the abuse of Human Growth Hormones (HGH) in sport has been recognised with the award of an OBE. The research carried out by an international group of scientists and led by Professor Sonksen resulted in the development of a new test to detect abuse of HGH in athletes. Originally leading the GH-2000 research group they developed a test to detect growth hormone and delivered it to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in January 1999 in time for implementation at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Delays by the IOC and the need for further refinement and validation by the GH-2004 research team (led by Professor Richard Holt at the University of Southampton) meant that the research had its first successful application at the London 2012 Games, detecting two Paralympic power-lifters using HGH.

Professor Sonksen says: “Before the Sydney Olympics, the IOC was calling for a test for HGH abuse and the GH-2000 research team had come up with the science needed to establish this ahead of the Games. However, for various reasons the test was not used until 2012 in London. It is essential to be accurate with these tests, because a positive test for HGH could ruin a career and there is no room for mistakes.”

With a career spanning four decades, Professor Sonksen has acted as an advisor to the International Olympics Committee (IOC) and been called upon for his expertise by many . He comments: “I am surprised, proud and delighted to receive this award in recognition of the immense amount of research that has resulted in this new test for HGH abuse. This work would not have been possible without successful collaboration between research teams in the UK and Europe.”

The achievements of some of our alumni were also recognised in the New Year Honours list 2014:

Dr Astrid Elizabeth Bonfield, CBE (BA Archaeology, 1990)
Chief Executive of The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, awarded a CBE for services to the charitable sector in the UK and abroad.

Iain Gilmour Gray FREng, CBE (MPhil, 1989)
Chief Executive Officer, Technology Strategy Board, awarded a CBE for services to science, technology and innovation.

Nicholas Paul Winser, CBE (BSc Electrical Engineering, 1983)
Executive Director, UK National Grid, awarded a CBE for services to the UK energy industry.

Ms Sylvia Jean Auton, OBE (BSc Psychology & Sociology, 1970)
Lately Chief Executive and Chairman, IPC Media, awarded an OBE for services to the publishing industry.

Professor Paul Stephen Cannon FREng, OBE (BSc Physics, 1975; MSc Electronics, 1977; PhD Physics, 1981)
Lately Director Poynting Institute, QinetiQ and University of Birmingham, awarded an OBE for services to engineering.

Paul Michael Fallon, OBE (BSc Psychology & Sociology, 1974; Diploma Applied Social Studies, 1975)
Independent Chair, Croydon Safeguarding Children Board and Trustee, Crime Reduction Initiatives, awarded an OBE for services to child protection.

Jonathan Neil Fitzmaurice, OBE (BSc Sociology & Soc Admin, 1970)
Director, Self Help Housing, awarded an OBE for services to housing.

Jillian Gwendoline Carr, MBE (BSc Geography, 1982)
Human Resources Director, Pendennis Shipyard, Falmouth, awarded an MBE for services to education.

Professor Paul Tyler

Professor Paul Tyler

Professor Peter Sonksen

Professor Peter Sonksen