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Bellshill's Nobel Prize-winner goes back to school

5:47pm - 13 April 2022

Scotland’s newest Nobel Prize-winner made an emotional return to his former secondary school in North Lanarkshire.

Princeton University’s Professor David MacMillan spent more than three hours chatting to pupils and staff at Bellshill Academy about his time there.

He also spoke about what it felt to win the Nobel Prize and about his other career successes on his first visit to the school since leaving in 1985.

Prof MacMillan admitted it was an emotional experience, saying: “As soon as I entered through the main doors all the memories came flooding back.

“Bellshill Academy and New Stevenson Primary really were amazing places to attend, and I owe so much of what I’ve achieved to the support and encouragement of so many wonderful teachers.

“I just remember there being such a positive culture and not only in the sciences but being encouraged in lots of subject areas.”

Prof MacMillan along with his wife, sister and daughter were given a tour of the school by senior pupils and head teacher Jodie McGraw. As they passed through the assembly hall, he told them of the occasions when his band played on the stage in the hall when he was sixteen years old.

“We were a decent group and had a lot of fun times, but not good enough to go that much further,” he reflected.

As part of his ongoing commitment to encourage pupils to study the sciences, he then visited two chemistry classes.

Pupils had given up a day of their holidays to ensure they got the chance to meet their school’s Nobel Prize winner and be photographed with his medal.

One pupil, Uzair Sharif, who hopes to study Pharmacology at Edinburgh University said: “It was great to meet him and chat to him about his experiences, it was really inspirational.

“He asked me about my future plans and we both agreed about the ongoing support and commitment of teachers both then and now.”

Robbie Muir, who also hopes to study Pharmacology at Edinburgh added: “It was a really special moment. He encouraged us all to pursue our goals and reminded us that, with enough hard work, anything is possible.”

Jodie McGraw, Head Teacher of Bellshill Academy, said: “It was really wonderful to invite our former pupil David and his family back to the school.

“He spent a great deal of time talking to the pupils about their plans for the future and he was so positive about his time studying here.

“It’s clear he’s incredibly proud of coming from Bellshill and growing up here.”

Professor David MacMillan was jointly awarded a Nobel Prize for chemistry for the development of asymmetric organocatalysis with German Scientist Benjamin List earlier in October 2021. He will use

Organocatalysts, according to Princeton University’s website, are: “…made from organic, carbon-based molecules, are greener than traditional metal catalysts, which tend to be rare and expensive, and are often toxic enough to require safety gear to use.

“With organocatalysis, these biodegradable and benign molecules are used to construct new drugs and materials. The impact is immeasurable, reaching from industrial applications to pharmaceuticals to everyday products like clothing, shampoo, carpet fibers and more.”

After leaving Bellshill Academy, Prof MacMillan completed a degree in chemistry at the University of Glasgow before moving to the US to complete postgraduate studies.

He then studied at Harvard University before beginning his career at the University of California, Berkeley, moving to Caltech and then Princeton in 2006.

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Page last updated:
13 Apr 2022

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