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Professor David Moss

(Elected 2006)

‘I feel honoured to become a Birkbeck Fellow. It gives me great pleasure because it affords a lifelong connection with the College,’ says David Moss, retired Professor of Biomolecular Structure at Birkbeck and now a part-time Senior Research Fellow.

After gaining his PhD at King’s College on chemical crystallography in 1967, Professor Moss got at job as a teaching fellow at the University of Leeds, and then secured a lectureship in electron microscopy at Birkbeck's Crystallography department.

He says: ‘Arriving at Birkbeck in 1968 was one of the happiest days of my life.’

Professor Moss has research interests ranging from molecular biology and protein crystallography – the study of crystallised molecules – to bioinformatics, which is the analysis of large amounts of biological data using computer networks and databases.

‘I am fascinated by symmetry and statistics, both of which are central in protein crystallography, and some of my contributions to these areas have given me great pleasure,’ he says.

Professor Moss leads Birkbeck’s efforts in the ImmunoGrid collaborative project to build and deploy a virtual human immune system using a computer simulation. The system will mimic immune responses to help design treatments for cancer and chronic infections.

‘This will assist in understanding autoimmune diseases, for example rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, allergies and leukaemia relapse. In the latter case, we have been working to develop immunotherapies where donor T cells can be used to kill residual leukaemia cells.’

He is equally proud of his teaching successes, not least introducing internet-based education in 1995. ‘I enjoyed taking part in running these courses, even when it meant giving tutorials in the middle of the night to catch students on both sides of the Pacific Rim. We were one of the first universities to use the internet for this.’

His biggest challenge as Head of the School of Crystallography (1987–1996 and 2001–2006) has often been the sheer volume of work, he says. ‘In academic life scientific progress does not arise out of good management. Bad management, however, can easily stifle initiative. I hope I have provided a supportive infrastructure and a scientific environment where people can realise their talents. I've had some great colleagues who have given the School the world-class research reputation it deserves.’ Many colleagues are grateful that David sacrificed time that could have been spent on academic work to provide this good management.

As he steps down, Professor Moss has plenty to keep him busy. ‘In the summer I monitor the butterfly populations on Chobham Common, a National Nature Reserve, for the Butterfly Conservation. I also regularly visit inmates in a local prison. Many come from broken homes and opted out of school.’ However, he will not be hanging up his Birkbeck lab coat any time soon, having secured a 'retirement job' as a part-time Senior Research Fellow. He is keen to express his respect for Birkbeck students. ‘I have tremendous admiration for anybody who can study for a degree with a full-time job. Teaching such students can be so rewarding because they often bring so much to their studies from their day jobs.’