RGS celebrates first former pupil to win Nobel Prize

Among the illustrious names announced as Nobel Prize winners earlier this year was one person with a connection to Jesmond: Sir Gregory Winter.

Winter, now Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, was jointly awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, alongside Professors Frances Arnold and George Smith. As the first former Royal Grammar School (RGS) student to be awarded a Nobel Prize, the school and Jesmond community are immensely proud.

John Fern, Headmaster of RGS, told JesmondLocal: “We are absolutely delighted […] and offer him our warmest congratulations. His discovery has undoubtedly affected us all in some way through the new treatments that are now possible and I really hope that this will serve as inspiration for a new generation of students who will follow his example and go out into the world to make a real difference.”

Sir Greg, as he likes to be called, talked to JesmondLocal about how his time at RGS influenced his work ethics and career decision.

Moving to the north east from the Midlands with his family, Winter attended RGS from 1964 to 1969. Those years leading up to university were very formative for his work ethics in his future life and career.

“We learned to listen carefully, to work hard and to compete”, he told JesmondLocal. “We were certainly pushed – in a good way – but we also had to pull ourselves up and think for ourselves. For me that ethos and those habits proved invaluable once learned.”

He always had a great interest in the natural world which was reinforced by the great science teachers at RGS. During his school time, his particular interest was biology, which eventually led him to his career and success in chemistry.

He said: “It was the biology teacher Alan Simpson who stimulated my interest in the molecules of life […] providing a glimpse into the invisible chemical world. That curiosity combined with deep learning and hard work primed me for my career in scientific research.”

© University of Cambridge

The chemistry teaching at RGS was particularly enjoyable for Winter as it encompassed both the history of the subject and a lot of practical work – an element that has been lost, he says.

Fifteen years ago, when his children went to school, he noticed a lack of practical work and highlights the importance of “learning-by-doing” for teenagers.

“We would learn about the history of chemistry, and see how theory was built up piecemeal from experimental evidence”, he remembered. However, 15 years ago “it seemed that the whole underpinning world of experiment had been forgotten, or eliminated by economies and by health and safety regulations applied in a heavy-handed manner.” He added that teenagers “learn to do things properly by the occasional burnt finger or singed hair.”