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Professor George Lunt OBE
Professor George Lunt OBE
Professor Lunt accepts his degree
Professor Lunt accepts his degree
Professors Lunt and Jamieson
Professors Jamieson and Lunt

Internal News - 27 June 2008

Honorary graduate - Professor George Lunt

Oration by Professor Ian Jamieson

Young people in England are often asked what they would like to be.

In 1964 George Lunt thought that he would like to be a brewer. Such are the vicissitudes of fortune that he ended up as a distinguished brain scientist and Deputy Vice Chancellor of the university. If things had worked out differently maybe we might all be enjoying a better pint!

But back to brewing. Armed with a scholarship from the Institute of Brewers George enrolled in the Biochemistry department of the University of Birmingham. After graduation a chance encounter with a young lecturer at Birmingham got George interested in physiological chemistry, the subject of his PhD. They were working on chemical signalling systems in the brain and made an important discovery that was part of what we now recognise as ‘second messenger’ receptor systems. George Lunt was thus launched on his successful career as a cell biologist, specialising in the brain.

Leaving sunny Birmingham his next port of call was Argentina, in particular a Wellcome Trust Overseas Research Fellowship at the Institute of Cell Biology in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Buenos Aires, a leading centre in brain cell signalling. He returned with huge enthusiasm for this path breaking work and more than passable Spanish. Following a year at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, he declined a lectureship in Birmingham and accepted a post at Bath. The year was 1971.

At Bath it was George Lunt who gradually bought together what were effectively two separate departments, Biochemistry and Animal Physiology into one department, the department we know today as Biology and Biochemistry. The research went well, a significant group was formed working on both insect and mammalian nerve cells and was well funded by Shell and The Science Research Council.

George Lunt was beginning to become established as a scientist outside of the confines of Bath and the UK. He became active in the UK Biochemical Society, becoming its treasurer in 1976. He was also invited to join the Main Committee of the International Society for Neurochemistry. I think it is fair to say that George Lunt and his group put neuroscience at Bath on the national and international map. There are few meetings anywhere in the world in neuroscience when you won’t find a Bath graduate.

The reputation was consolidated when George co-authored one of the standard textbooks, ‘Biological Membranes, Structure and Function’ which rapidly became the textbook of choice for biochemistry and biology students worldwide. And in 1991 he became Chief Editor of the Journal of Neurochemistry, a post he held for ten years during which time the Journal became the top neurochemistry journal in the world, receiving up to 1600 papers a year.

The South American and Spanish speaking connections continued, albeit with some close calls. In 1981 arrangements were in place for George to take up the post of Visiting Director of a new Biochemical Research Institute in Bahia Blanca in Argentina. In the same year we went to war with Argentina over the Faulkland Islands and the invitation was withdrawn. Just as well, Bahia Blanca was the home port of the Belgrano warship. But times change, and George has been instrumental in the university forging partnerships with many South American and Spanish universities, most recently with Banco Santander, the major bank in Latin America which links many leading universities together.

Today most people know Professor Lunt as the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the man in charge of strategic planning and resource allocation inside the university. His management career at Bath started unkindly: becoming Head of School in 1988 he was told by the then Vice-Chancellor that of the £1 million deficit that the university had, £800,000 was attributed to his school. It was the transformation of the school that revealed his talent as an academic manager, a job he performed with that mixture of shrewd judgement and good humour that has made him such a success as a Deputy Vice-Chancellor.

George is a modest man. He said that he thought that the University would remember him most for his suggestion for the name of our main dining room, the Claverton Rooms, a name he said that he put forward in jest. In fact we will remember him most as a very distinguished biochemist who laid the foundations for the development of cell biology at Bath and who made a significant contribution to neurochemistry worldwide.

Chancellor, I present to you Professor George Lunt who is eminently worthy to receive the Degree of Doctor of Science, honoria causa.