Graduation Week, Celebrating Honorands: from electricity to the World Wide Web

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Today the University is holding graduation ceremonies for St Andrews University graduates in the Sciences.

St Andrews has a strong history of science teaching and research, through the work of many eminent academics of both past and present in these disciplines. Foundations were laid by professors of Natural History such as William Carmichael McIntosh (1882-1917) and polymath D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1917-1948) who’s seminal On Growth and Form celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, establishing a strong foundation for their discipline. Chemistry professors Thomas Purdie, James Irvine and Robert Robinson (Nobel Prize 1947) paved the way for their current successors.

As a result of the strength and depth of the reputation of all branches of science at the University, many notable figures in science have been awarded pleased to accept honorary degrees by the University over the years. Here are a handful:

Benjamin Franklin, LLD 1759, was awarded his honorary degree in recognition of his writings on Electricity

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), whose career has been summed up in the Biographical Register of the University as “printer, publisher, politician and physicist”, was awarded his honorary degree in recognition of his “writings on Electricity” (Senatus Minutes, 12 February 1759), his degree being conferred gratis and in absentia. However, in October 1759 he included a visit to St Andrews in a tour of Scotland during which he was made a Freeman of the Burgh.

He presented copies of his own writings to the University Library as well as forwarding a volume, still held at classmark rQ11.A6T8, which he forwarded, as is noted on the flyleaf:

“The American Philosophical Society held at Philadelphia humbly desires to co-operate with the University of St Andrews in their laudable endeavors for the advancement of useful knowledge, request that learned and respectable Body to accept this volume, as the first Fruits of their labors in this new World. By order of the Society.”

“London, August 10. 1772. Received and forwarded by the University’s obliged and most obedient humble servant, B Franklin.”

Flyleaf from Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, rQ11.A6T8
Sir David Attenborough, DSc 2011

Sir David Attenborough, broadcaster and naturalist, best known for writing and presenting the Life TV series, and for his work as a controller and director of programming at the BBC, was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science on 22 June 2011.

“Sir David Attenborough has brought us a view of nature that enriches people of all ages and helps to instil the respect for the natural world that is critically needed in the present day…”

You can read Professor David Paterson’s Laureation Address for Sir David Attenborough here:,70272,en.php

Dr Simon Singh, DSc 2012

Dr Simon Singh, popular science author, TV documentary producer and co-founder of the Undergraduate Ambassadors Scheme, was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science on 22 June 2012.

“His early interest in science was due in no small part to the inspiring TV presenters who were around at that time, such as Carl Sagan, Patrick Moore, James Burke and Heinz Wolff. These were his role models. He now follows their lead in inspiring new generations of scientists through his writing and broadcasting.”

You can read Professor Alyson Tobin’s Laureation Address for Simon Singh here:,87946,en.php

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, DSc 2013 with Dean of Science, Professor Al Dearle

Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, engineer and computer scientist, best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web, was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science as part of the University’s 600th anniversary celebrations in 2013.

“WWW – three letters that Sir Tim Berners-Lee brought together to change the world. Online shops and auction houses, social networks, wikis, online banks, maps, apps, news sites, open government data, electronic journals and newspapers – none of them would have been possible if it were not for Sir Tim.”

You can read Professor Alan Dearle’s laureation address for Tim Berners-Lee here:

Professor Peter Higgs, DSc 2014

Professor Peter Higgs, theoretical physicist and Nobel Laureate, was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science on 25 June 2014.

“…the detection of the Higgs boson confirms the Higgs mechanism, which explains the mass of elementary particles such as quarks and electrons and weak nuclear-force carriers. The observation of the particle is a triumph of human achievement, involving thousands of people; the theory that inspired it is another triumph of human achievement attributable to Peter Higgs.”

You can read Professor Ifor Samuel’s Laureation Address for Professor Higgs here:,245434,en.php

Sean Rippington
Digital Archives Officer

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