Picture on the left of Sandy Knapp, and image on the right of Chris Stringer. They are both looking directly at the camera.

Sandy, Chris and Richard are all internationally recognised experts in their fields of botany and human evolution. Image use By Permission of the Linnean Society of London and The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London.

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Three Museum scientists awarded on the 2023 New Year Honours list

Three Museum scientists have been celebrated in the 2023 New Year Honours list.

Professor Chris Stringer is an expert on human evolution and has been awarded a CBE, while Dr Sandra Knapp is an internationally renowned botanist and Dr Richard Fortey a senior palaeontologist who have each been awarded an OBE. 

The 2023 New Year's Honours list has included three Museum scientists.

Celebrating the important contributions that Professor Chris Stringer, Dr Sandra Knapp and Dr Richard Fortey have made to their respective fields of human evolution, botany and paleontology, they are among those recognised on the first honours list issued by His Majesty King Charles III.

Dr Doug Gurr, the Director of the Museum, says, 'We are thrilled to see Professor Chris Stringer, our longest-serving research scientist, Dr Sandra Knapp and Dr Richard Fortey be recognised with a CBE and OBE in this year's New Year Honours list.'

'Chris, Sandy and Richard are at the forefront of their fields, world leaders making significant impacts to science internationally. A huge congratulations to them all.'

Discovering our own origins

Chris Stringer holding the skull of an ancient human.

Chris has been an internationally renowned researcher the field of human evolution for five decades © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

Chris has been researching human evolution for over five decades. Originally studying anthropology at University College London, he went on to conduct a PhD in Anatomical Studies at Bristol University before joining the Museum as permanent staff in 1973.

His work has looked at the expansion of our species out of Africa, transformed the scientific and public understanding of the relationships between modern humans and Neaderthals, and been critical in determining how and when humans first arrived in Britain.

With some 527 publications and counting, on subjects ranging from palaeontology and archaeology, to geochronology and genetics, Chris has developed an extraordinary reputation and international collaborative network of colleagues. A Fellow of the Royal Society, Chris has been honoured with seven medals from learned societies.

'I'm delighted to be awarded the CBE and accept this as an honour not just for me but for all the people I've worked with on human evolution studies over the last 50 years or so, both within and outside the Natural History Museum,' says Chris.

Potatoes, tomatoes and aubergines, oh my!

Sandy Knapp leaning on the mantle of a fireplace looking directly at the camera.

Sandy has worked right around the world, studying an naming plants as she goes. Image use By Permission of the Linnean Society of London   

Sandy started out studying botany at Pomona College, California, before going on to study for a PhD at Cornell University. Her scientific career has focused on the group of plants that contain potatoes, tomatoes and aubergines, known more formally as the Solanaceae.

This has included detailed work on the relationships and evolution of the plant species within this group, leading to new and exciting findings about the origins of these important food plants and their relatives, as well as the descriptions of new species.

In addition to her scientific career, Sandy has also been a tireless science communicator, authoring a number of books on botany, botanical exploration and botanical illustrations. Sandy is also past President of the Linnean Society, a Trustee of the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland and President of Flora and Fauna International USA as well as a prominent advocate for diversity in the scientific community.

'This honour is as much for those I work with as it is for me. It is lovely to have botany, the study of plants, recognised in this way,' says Sandy. 'Plants form the basis for most of Earth's ecosystems, and my work to disseminate the story of science begins with them. My huge thanks to all who have supported me and work throughout the years – this is for all of us.'  

Understanding extinctions

Richard Fortey delivering a talk in Australia.

Richard has had an extraordinary scientific career, becoming the world expert in ancient arthropods known as trilobites. 

Richard's interests in palaeontology started when, as a 14 year old boy, he discovered the fossil of a trilobite. This discovery sparked a life-long love of these ancient invertebrates and a career that has spanned almost six decades.

Studying Natural Sciences at Cambridge before continuing to complete a PhD on fossil trilobites preserved in the rocks on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, he became a world expert on these arthropods. Spending his entire working career at the Museum, he has named hundreds of new species of trilobites from all around the world and published over 250 papers on the evolution and origin of many major trilobite groups.

He has previously been elected the president of the Geological Society of London, the Palaeontological Association and Palaeontographical Society, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society. Despite retiring from the Museum almost two decades ago, Richard has not stopped his scientific studies and continues to research and publish on palaeontology.

Aside from his prosperous scientific career, Richard has also inspired many through his numerous books, radio and television appearances. Perhaps best known for his behind-the-scenes biography of the Natural History Museum, Dry Store Room No.1, he has also authored many other books on fossils and trilobites in particular.

In addition to his writings, he has also appeared in many TV documentaries, including presenting Survivors: Nature's Indestructible Creatures and Nature’s Wonderlands: Islands of Evolution, while also accompanying Sir David Attenborough to the Atlas mountains for Morocco for the TV show First Life. In 2014 he was interviewed by Jim Al-Khalili's radio show The Life Scientific.