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Obituary: Ken Holmes

Ken Holmes, Birkbeck alumnus and outstanding molecular biologist, died recently at the age of 87. His achievements and inspiring presence at the ISMB symposium are remembered here.

Black and white portrait photograph of Ken Holmes.
Ken Holmes, 2021. Photo credit: Massimo del Prete/EMBL

Ken Holmes, who was a Birkbeck alumnus and outstanding scientist in the field of molecular biology, died recently on November 2 2021, aged 87.

Ken was awarded his PhD in the structure of tobacco mosaic virus at Birkbeck in 1959, working with Rosalind Franklin, JD Bernal and Aaron Klug. It was while working at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge in the 1960's that he developed methods and X-ray optics for analysing muscle structures by X-ray fibre diffraction. In 1970 he founded the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) site at DESY Hamburg with Gerd Rosenbaum and together they built the first X-ray beamline at DESY. This breakthrough laid the foundations for world-wide research which was to go on to reveal the atomic structures of hundreds of thousands of biological samples. These discoveries underpin the understanding of countless fundamental biological processes and the knowledge used to develop drugs and treatments for a vast range of diseases.

In keeping with his enthusiasm for science, Ken was a speaker at the joint UCL-Birkbeck Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology symposium and his contribution is recalled by Carolyn Moores, Head of the Department of Biological Sciences: "It was a thrill and privilege to hear this trail-blazing structural biologist speak to the ISMB – his contributions, insight and wit will long be remembered."

Further Information

Read the full Ken Holmes' obituary from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL)

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