RMS saddened to learn of death of Hon Fellow Sir Aaron Klug

Nobel Prize-winning chemist and biophysicist was renowned for his work on virus structure and transforming crystallographic electron microscopy

The RMS was saddened to learn of the recent death of Honorary Fellow, Sir Aaron Klug, at the age of 92.

Sir Aaron (pictured above, right, receiving his Honorary Fellowship in 1985) was a world-renowned chemist and bio-physicist, and will be greatly missed by all those who knew him at the Society.

In 1982 he received a Nobel Prize in chemistry for his advancement of crystallographic electron microscopy and his work unravelling complexes of protein and nucleic acid in viruses.

Central to these achievements was his development of a new microscopy technique to study assemblies of molecules and biological complexes. Sir Aaron showed how a sequence of two-dimensional images of crystals taken from different angles could be combined to produce three-dimensional images of the target - a technique later drawn on by others in developing X-ray CT scans.

In 1986 he was appointed head of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) at Cambridge, and later became president of the Royal Society, the UK’s premier scientific academy. It was under his stewardship that the body produced a key report in response to the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) crisis. As the society’s president, he also led the response of the scientific community over the GM food crisis of the late 90s and the human genome project (HGP). Sir Aaron was keenly aware of the importance of public engagement in science, and strengthened the Royal Society’s approach to media engagement.

He received a knighthood in 1988, and was appointed to the Order of Merit in 1995.

Born to a Jewish family in Lithuania, Sir Aaron moved with his parents to south Africa as a young boy and was educated at Durban high school, eventually obtaining a Masters Degree from Cape Town University. A research Fellowship enabled him to move to England, where he completed his PhD at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Sir Aaron moved to London’s Birkbeck College, where he began a highly successful collaboration with celebrated X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin. The pair worked on Franklin’s studies of the tobacco mosaic virus, making a number of discoveries relating to the structure of the complex assemblies that make up virus particles. Sir Aaron continued this work after Franklin’s untimely death in 1958, developing his new microscopy technique while at the newly-established LMB in the 1960s. He retained a lifelong interest in the study of viruses throughout his career.

Sir Aaron and his family retained a strong connection to their Jewish cultural roots, making many visits to Israel including to the city of Be’er-Sheva and Ben Gurion University, where a research centre is named in his honour.

Sir Aaron is survived by his wife Liebe and son Adam.

Sir Aaron Klug, biophysicist, born 11 August 1926; died 20 November 2018.


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