Speaker Biographies


Prof. Frances Arnold

Frances Hamilton Arnold is the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology, where she pioneered methods of directed protein evolution used to make better proteins for applications in alternative energy, chemicals, and medicine. She earned a B.S. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from Princeton University and her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from UC Berkeley. She carried out postdoctoral research in biophysical chemistry at UC Berkeley before coming to Caltech in 1986.

Arnold’s work has been recognized by many awards, including the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2018, the Millennium Technology Prize in 2016, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ Sackler Prize in Convergence Research in 2017, the Charles Stark Draper Prize of the National Academy of Engineering in 2011, and the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation, which she received in 2013. She has also been elected to membership in the US National Academies of Science, Medicine, and Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Frances Arnold chairs the Advisory Panel of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation Fellowships in Science and Engineering and serves as a Trustee of the Gordon Research Conferences. She is also a Director of Illumina. Co-inventor on 58 issued patents and active in technology transfer, Arnold co-founded Gevo, Inc. in 2005 to make fuels and chemicals from renewable resources and Provivi, Inc. in 2014 to develop non-toxic modes of agricultural pest control.


Prof. Sandra Diaz

Sandra Díaz is Professor of Community and Ecosystems Ecology at Córdoba National University (Argentina) and Senior Principal Researcher of the Argentine National Research Council. Since 2009 she was elected Foreign Associate Member of the USA National Academy of Sciences. She has won several prizes such as the Argentine Botanical Society Award (1998), the J. S. Guggenheim Fellowship (2002), the Cozzarelli Prize of the USA National Academy of Sciences (2008), the Sustainability Science Award of the Ecological Society of America (2009), the Zayed International Prize for the Environment as a member of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005), and the Peace Nobel Prize 2007 as a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. She obtained her PhD in 1989 at Córdoba National University. From 1991 to 1993 she worked as a postdoc at the Unit of Comparative Plant Ecology, University of Sheffield. Since her return to Argentina in 1993, she has combined research and teaching at her permanent location with active involvement in foreign universities and international research initiatives. She has been a senior research fellow at Stanford University and a visiting full professor at the University J. Fourier in Grenoble. She has lead international projects, workshops and research and synthesis initiatives involving several countries in the Americas, Europe, Oceania, Africa and Asia, including the organization of several large-scale plant trait databases and comparative efforts. She has participated in leading positions in IPCC and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in the areas of ecosystems and biodiversity. At present she is a member of the Science Committee of DIVERSTIAS and the IGBP Global Land Project. She is one of the Chief Editors of the Journal of Vegetation Science and Applied Vegetation Science.

Professor Díaz is known for her work on plant functional traits, their interactions with global environmental change drivers and their effects on ecosystem processes, reflected in more than 100 scientific publications. Recently she has had a strong influence in the development and practical implementation of the concept of functional diversity and how affects ecosystem properties and the benefits that people derive from them. From an initial focus on plant trait responses to climate and land use, her scientific interests have ramified into the causes of different components of functional diversity, their effects on ecosystem properties, and their implications for different sectors of society. As a consequence of this broadening focus, she has founded and leads the international initiative Núcleo DiverSus on Diversity and Sustainability Research.


Prof. Sir Christopher Dobson

Professor Dobson’s research interests are primarily focused on the investigation of the structures and properties of biological molecules, especially proteins, and their relationship to biological evolution and disease. His group has a particular interest in the fundamental science underlying disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. In addition, however, he has recently become involved in the novel utilisation of biological molecules in materials science and nanotechnology.

The methods we use are largely experimental, but do include theoretical and computational approaches. Much of the work is highly interdisciplinary, and people joining the group come from a wide variety of scientific backgrounds ranging from experimental biochemistry to theoretical physics. The research group is based in the Chemistry Department in a newly constructed laboratory located in the Unilever Building. The range of experimental techniques used by the group is very large, including NMR, EM, AFM and X-ray diffraction, as well as a variety of methods based on optical spectroscopy, including fluorescence and circular dichroism. Many, but not all, members of the group also use the techniques of protein chemistry and molecular biology.

The group has close links with scientists in other laboratories in Cambridge, including the Clinical School, the Genetics Department and the Nanoscience Centre and, indeed, some members of the group have been largely based in these departments. New members of the group usually develop a project by discussion with me, along with other members of the research team. Group members are often involved in joint projects with other laboratories and may spend periods of time working with our collaborators in other parts of the world.



Raphael Domjan

Raphaël has been passionate about adventure and exploration since childhood. Now an eco-adventurer and speaker, through his SolarPlanet Foundation, Raphaël is committed to protecting our planet, our biodiversity, our atmosphere and our environment in Switzerland and around the world.

Today, his adventures and explorations are no longer about discovering unknown lands or breaking records. They focus instead on protecting our environment and biodiversity. We now have the knowledge and technology we need to be completely sustainable, and to make meaningful progress together.

Raphaël is also involved in various humanitarian projects. He wants to promote the use of renewable energy in developing countries, thus enabling them to acquire energy independence while developing new technologies.

  • Eco-explorer & Speaker

  • Pilot, Skipper, Mountaineer, potholer.

  • Founding member and partner of the company Horus Networks Sàrl, the first solar host in the world

  • Initiator, president and expedition leader of the “PlanetSolar” adventure, the first solar-powered around-the-world tour

  • Co-founder and chair of the “SolarPlanet” foundation for the promotion of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

  • Co-author of the book “PlanetSolar” (Favre, 2010)

  • Co-author of the book “PlanetSolar, le premier tour du monde à l’énergie solaire” (Favre, 2012)

  • Production of the 2012 documentary “A la poursuite du soleil” (Chasing the sun)

  • Initiator and pilot of SolarStratos, Raphaël’s new expedition to the edge of space


Prof. Ben Feringa

Ben L. Feringa obtained his PhD degree at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands under the guidance of Professor Hans Wynberg. After working as a research scientist at Shell in the Netherlands and at the Shell Biosciences Centre in the UK, he was appointed lecturer and in 1988 full professor at the University of Groningen and named the Jacobus H. van't Hoff Distinguished Professor of Molecular Sciences in 2004. He was elected Foreign Honory member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is member and vice-president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences. In 2008 he was appointed Academy Professor and was knighted by Her Majesty the Queen of the Netherlands.

Feringa's research has been recognized with a number of awards including the Koerber European Science Award (2003), the Spinoza Award (2004), the Prelog gold medal (2005), the Norrish Award of the ACS (2007), the Paracelsus medal (2008), the Chirality medal (2009),the RSC Organic Stereochemistry Award (2011), Humboldt Award (2012), the Grand Prix Scientifique Cino del Duca (French Academy 2012), the Marie Curie medal (2013) and the Nagoya Gold Medal (2013). The research interest includes stereochemistry, organic synthesis, asymmetric catalysis, optopharma, molecular switches and motors, self-assembly and molecular nanosystems.


Prof. Carl Folke

Carl Folke, professor in Natural Resource Management, is Director of the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and Founder and Chairman of the Board of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Folke is a systems thinker in integrative science for sustainability. His work emphasizes that humans and our societies are embedded parts of the biosphere dependent on its life-supporting ecosystems, while simultaneously shaping them from local to global scales and from the past into the future. Since the mid-1980s he has broken new grounds in understanding the dynamic interplay of humans and nature, of economy and ecology, and developed research on social-ecological systems and resilience thinking from management and stewardship of ecosystem services in the seas and on the land to global sustainability. He has more than 30 years of experience in international collaboration across disciplines, has produced some three-hundred publications and is recognized as a Highly Cited Researcher. He has created inter- and transdisciplinary collaborative platforms and contributed to the development of new areas of research, concepts and approaches that have spread across science, education, policy and practice, and more recently into the business community. Folke’s work has illustrated how progress, prosperity and wellbeing will benefit from reconnecting development to the biosphere.

Folke has received several awards and recognitions, including the Gunnerus Award in Sustainability Science, the International Geographical Union‘s Planet and Humanity Medal, and the Sustainability Science Award of the Ecological Society of America. Folke is member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Science and of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Folke has a long record of science, policy and practice collaboration, working with key actors from local landscapes in Sweden to international bodies and enterprises. Currently, he is engaged with the Keystone Actors dialogues for Ocean Stewardship with multinational seafood businesses and a member of the Advisory Board of EAT (food, health, sustainability). Folke directs research programs, serves on a number of scientific advisory boards, has served on boards and committees of research councils, UN organisations, the Swedish Government and various organizations in Sweden and internationally. He started an institute for science communication, Albaeco, in the late 1990s and is genuinely engaged in the arts-science interface. He has developed several exhibitions like “Changing Matters – The Resilience Art Exhibition” 2008, “Reflections – On People and the Biosphere”, with installations at the art venue Artipelag 2014 and the Raoul Wallenberg Square 2015, Stockholm, and co-developed the exhibition Patterns of the Biosphere 2015 at Svenskt Tenn, Stockholm.

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Prof. Joanna Haigh

Joanna Haigh is the co-Director of the Grantham Institute - Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, having taken up this position in May 2014.  For five years prior to that she was the Head of the Department of Physics at Imperial.

 Joanna is also Professor of Atmospheric Physics and has published widely in the area of radiative transfer in the atmosphere, climate modelling and radiative forcing of climate change.  Her work on how changes in solar activity may influence climate has been particularly influential.

She is a Fellow of the Royal Society, the Institute of Physics (IoP) and the City & Guilds and an Honorary Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford and the Royal Meteorological Society (RMetS). She is also a past-President of the RMetS. She has been a Lead Author for UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, and shares a Nobel Peace Prize with several hundred others for that work. She has been awarded the IoP Chree Medal and Prize, and the RMetS Adrian Gill Prize, for her work on the interface between atmospheric science and solar physics, and was appointedCBE for her services to physics in 2013.

 She is an enthusiastic teacher and communicator, participates in a wide range of community scientific activities and media engagement.  She is also Director of the Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet NERC Doctoral Training Partnership at Imperial College.

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Prof. Donald Johanson

One of the most accomplished scholars of human origins, Donald Johanson has produced some of the field’s most groundbreaking discoveries, including the most widely known and thoroughly studied fossil of the 20th century, the 3.2-million-year-old “Lucy” skeleton.

Although the 20th century has been peppered with important early-human fossil finds, it was Johanson’s 1974 discovery in Ethiopia that added a crucial link, prompting major revisions in our understanding of human evolution. “Lucy” possesses an intriguing mixture of ape-like features such as a projecting face and small brain, but also characteristics we consider human, such as upright walking, marking an important step on the path to Homo sapiens.

In the early 1970s the remote region of Ethiopia known as the Afar Triangle was terra incognita and its potential for illuminating our evolutionary past was unrecognized.  In spite of the desolate and hostile nature of the area Johanson, with meager funding co-led an expedition to a site known as Hadar and began to unearth a treasure trove of fossils, including Lucy, that walked the planet some 3 to 4 million years ago.  So revolutionary were these discoveries that the entire story of how we became human required substantial revision.   Now some 40 years later we know more details of the vital picture of how humans came to be but the general outlines of the human family tree proposed by Johanson’s early work continue to form the core of that story.

As a passionate and provocative speaker Johanson is committed to sharing and explaining his scientific discoveries to the general public. His efforts in this regard have reached across multiple media—including television, books, and his award-winning science website www.becominghuman.org,  and his highly successful MOOC, on-line course Human Origins with edX.org.  In addition to lecturing at universities, corporations, and public forums. Johanson is the founding director of the internationally respected Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University.

Johanson’s findings continue to resonate in the halls of paleoanthropology and have stimulated him to ponder the ultimate question:  What Makes us Human?  On this 40th Anniversary Year of the Lucy discovery Johanson and the Institute of Human Origins embarked on a multi-year, cross-disciplinary research program to document the evolutionary foundations of human uniqueness by focusing on the key adaptations, time periods and environments in which we evolved.  More than 11 projects embracing some 45 scholars and numerous graduate students will form a trans-disciplinary network carefully crafted to our human uniqueness.

Johanson and colleagues believe that three attributes are unique to humans and interact in a powerful manner that has led to our preeminence on the Earth. First, our unlimited potential for culture and especially cumulative culture allows us to live in a wide range of changing environments by means of highly refined knowledge and tools. Second, our ability to experience our lives within a world of extraordinary cognitive complexity is made possible by our complex and energetically expensive brains. Modern humans are the only animals who view and communicate using an intricate symbolic language. And third, humans have an uncanny ability to cooperate more extensively than any other vertebrate species.

Johanson suggests that for the salvation of Homo sapiens and indeed all life on planet Earth, we must reinvent a reverence for our true creator—Nature.


Prof. Nick Lane

Nick Lane is Professor of Evolutionary Biochemistry in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London.

 Prof Lane’s research is on the way that energy flow has shaped evolution over 4 billion years, using a mixture of theoretical modelling and experimental work to address the origin of life, the evolution of complex cells and downright peculiar behaviour such as sex. All life on Earth is powered by intense electrical charges across thin cell membranes – ‘membrane bioenergetics’ – and this requirement places fundamental constraints on what natural selection can achieve. Prof Lane is Co-Director of the UCL Centre for Life’s Origin and Evolution (CLOE) and was a founding member of the UCL Consortium for Mitochondrial Research. His work has been honoured by several awards and prizes including the 2015 Biochemical Society Award for his outstanding contribution to molecular life sciences and 2016 Royal Society Michael Faraday Prize and Lecture, the UK’s premier award for excellence in communicating science. He has published more than 80 research papers including articles in NatureScience and Cell, and given hundreds  of lectures at universities and conferences around the world.

Nick Lane is the author of four acclaimed books on evolutionary biochemistry, which have been translated into 30 languages. These books treat the grand sweep of evolution from the origins of life to our own ageing and death. Life Ascending won the 2010 Royal Society Prize for Science Books. Nick was described by the Independent as “One of the most exciting science writers of our time”. His most recent book, The Vital Question, even came to the attention of Bill Gates, who described it as “an amazing inquiry into the origins of life.” He appears regularly on TV and radio, and is in high demand as a speaker at science and literary festivals and in schools.


Prof. Josef Michl

Josef Michl was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia. He received his M.S. in Chemistry with V. Horák and P. Zuman at Charles University, and his Ph.D. with R. Zahradník at the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, all in Prague. He left Czechoslovakia in 1968, did postdoctoral work with R. S. Becker at the University of Houston, with M. J. S. Dewar at the University of Texas at Austin, with J. Linderberg at Aarhus University, Denmark, and with F. E. Harris at the University of Utah, where he stayed and became a full professor in 1975 and served as chairman in 1979-1984. In 1986-1990 he held the M. K. Collie-Welch Regents Chair in Chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin and subsequently moved to the University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, where he is Professor of Chemistry presently.

Professor Michl has held close to a hundred visiting professorships and named lectureships, delivered hundreds of invited lectures at institutions and conferences, has served on many professional and editorial boards, advisory councils, and committees, and has organized several international meetings. He has been a Sloan, a Guggenheim, a Fulbright, and a University of Colorado Faculty Fellow, has won the Cope Scholar, Utah Section, Kosolapoff and James Flack Norris ACS Awards, the A. v. Humboldt Senior U.S. Scientist, Japan Society for Promotion of Science, Inter-American Photochemical Society, and Wichterle Awards, the Schrödinger and Porter Medals, the J. Heyrovský and Charles University Gold Medals, the Patria award from the Czech government, and the Marinus Smith Award of the University of Colorado (for work with undergraduates). He has received honorary degrees from Georgetown University, the University of Pardubice and the Masaryk University. He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the President of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science, and an honorary member of the Czech Learned Society.

Professor Michl was editor-in-chief of Chemical Reviews from 1984 to 2014. He had a long association with IUPAC, where he chaired the Photochemistry Commission. He has co-authored five books on photochemistry and polarization spectroscopy, and close to seven hundred scientific papers in the areas of organic, inorganic, theoretical, and physical chemistry. His research has dealt with theoretical and experimental aspects of organic photochemical reactions, linear and magnetic circular dichroism, organic and main-group inorganic reactive intermediates, molecular rotors, sigma electron delocalization and other aspects of molecular electronic structure, gas-phase cluster ions formed by sputtering, fluorine, boron, silicon, and lithium chemistry, and several other topics.


Prof. Jack Szostak

Dr. Szostak received his B.Sc. from McGill University in Montreal in 1972, and then conducted his graduate research under the supervision of Prof. Ray Wu at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, obtaining his Ph.D. in 1977. Dr. Szostak then moved to the Sidney Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in 1979, and then to Massachusetts General Hospital in 1984. During the 1980s he carried out research on the genetics and biochemistry of DNA recombination, which led to the double-strand-break repair model for meiotic recombination. At the same time Dr. Szostak made fundamental contributions to our understanding of telomere structure and function, and the role of telomere maintenance in preventing cellular senescence. For this work Dr. Szostak shared, with Drs. Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider, the 2006 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award and the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

In the 1990s Dr. Szostak and his colleagues developed in vitro selection as a tool for the isolation of functional RNA, DNA and protein molecules from large pools of random sequences. His laboratory used in vitro selection and directed evolution to isolate and characterize numerous nucleic acid sequences with specific ligand binding and catalytic properties. For this work, Dr. Szostak was awarded, along with Dr. Gerald Joyce, the 1994 National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology and the 1997 Sigrist Prize from the University of Bern. In 2000, Dr. Szostak was awarded the Medal of the Genetics Society of America, and in 2008 Dr. Szostak received the H.P. Heineken Prize in Biophysics and Biochemistry.

From 2000 until the present Dr. Szostak’s research interests have focused on the laboratory synthesis of self-replicating systems and the origin of life. For this work he received the Harold Urey Medal from the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life in 2011. Dr. Szostak is an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University, and the Alex Rich Distinguished Investigator in the Dept. of Molecular Biology and the Center for Computational and Integrative Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Szostak is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, and a Fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


Prof. Omar Yaghi

Omar M. Yaghi is a Jordanian-American chemist, currently the James and Neeltje Tretter Chair Professor of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. Yaghi is renowned for having pioneered reticular chemistry, which is a new field of chemistry that is concerned with stitching molecular building blocks together by strong bonds to make open frameworks. His most recognizable work is in the design and production of new classes of compounds known as metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), zeolitic imidazolate frameworks (ZIFs), and covalent organic frameworks (COFs). MOFs are noted for their extremely high surface areas and very low crystalline densities. He has developed these materials from basic science toward applications in clean energy technologies including hydrogen and methane storage, carbon dioxide capture and storage, as well as harvesting water from desert air.

Yaghi was born in Amman, Jordan to a refugee family. At the age of 15, he moved to the United States at the encouragement of his father. Although he knew little English, he began classes at Hudson Valley Community College. He later transferred to the University at Albany, SUNY to finish his degree. He began his graduate studies at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign at the age of 20 and received his PhD in 1990 under the guidance of Prof. Walter G. Klemperer. He was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University with Professor Richard H. Holm. He was on the faculties of Arizona State University, the University of Michigan, and the University of California, Los Angeles.

In 2012, he moved to the University of California, Berkeley where he is now the James and Neeltje Tretter Professor of Chemistry. He is the Founding Director of the Berkeley Global Science Institute. He is also a Co-Director of the Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute of the University of California, Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as well as the California Research Alliance by BASF. His early accomplishments in the design and synthesis of new materials have been honored by the Solid State Chemistry Award of the American Chemical Society and Exxon Co. and the Sacconi Medal of the Italian Chemical Society. His work on hydrogen storage was recognized by Popular Science which listed him among the 'Brilliant 10' scientists and engineers in the United States in 2006, and the US Department of Energy Hydrogen Program Award for outstanding contributions to hydrogen storage. He received the Materials Research Society Medal for work in the theory, design, synthesis and applications of metal-organic frameworks and received the Newcomb Cleveland Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for the best paper published in Science (2007). He is the recipient of the American Chemical Society Chemistry of Materials Award (2009), Izatt-Christensen International Award (2009), United Kingdom's Royal Society of Chemistry Centenary Prize (2010), as well as China Nano Award (2013). He is the second most cited chemist in the world (2000–2010). In 2015 he was awarded both the King Faisal International Prize in Chemistry and the Mustafa Prize in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. In 2016 he was awarded TÜBA Academy Prize in Basic and Engineering Sciences for establishing Reticular Chemistry. In 2017, Yaghi was awarded the Spiers Memorial Award from the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Medal of Excellence of the First Order bestowed by King Abdullah II, the Japan Society of Coordination Chemistry International Award, the Bailar Medal in Inorganic Chemistry, the Kuwait Prize in Fundamental Sciences, and the Albert Einstein World Award of Science conferred by the World Cultural Council. In 2018, Yaghi was awarded the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Basic Sciences for pioneering Reticular Chemistry, and also in 2018 he received the Wolf Prize in Chemistry in which he was cited for pioneering reticular chemistry via metal-organic frameworks and covalent organic frameworks. His work on water harvesting from desert air using metal-organic frameworks was showcased by the World Economic Forum in Switzerland as one of the top 10 emerging technologies, and Yaghi was awarded the 2018 Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Yaghi also received the 2018 Eni Award for excellence in energy in recognition of his work in applying framework chemistry to clean energy solutions including methane storage, carbon dioxide capture and conversion, and water harvesting from desert air.