The Wolpert Medal

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Following the passing of one of the great developmental biologists, Lewis Wolpert, the BSDB committee has launched a new annual medal in his honour. Lewis was well known for his ability to distill our subject’s most engaging and fundamental problems into concise and well-grounded core concepts of Biology. This led to vastly important contributions to research in our field, but also to the communication of its problems to a broader audience. Through teaching, popular science writing and acting as a spokesperson for Science as a whole, Lewis inspired many of us into the deeper study of Developmental Biology. Therefore, annual ‘Wolpert medal’ will be presented to an individual who has made extraordinary contributions to the teaching and communication of Developmental Biology.

We have been incredibly fortunate to have the Scientist and Artist, Steph Nowotarski design the Lewis medal. In designing the Wolpert medal, we wanted to include various different model organisms that Lewis worked with through his career, including Hydra, chick limbs and sea urchins. At the centre is an image of Hydra as they represent the concepts of continual regeneration and renewal, and it is our best teachers and communicators that bring about the constant regeneration and renewal of our field.

To learn more of Lewis’ life and work, please read this Obituary by Jim Smith. Read more of Lewis’ impact on the BSDB here. Please also engage in an upcoming lecture series in his memory, hosted by UCL.


Wolpert Medallist 2023: Jonathan Slack (University of Bath)

Jonathan Slack often modestly states that some of his greatest career achievements were his scientific progeny, and some of these are indeed very good (including Abigail Tucker on our current committee).  But another very special output from Jonathan, besides his science, has been his books, several of which have been very influential over many years:

From Egg to Embryo (1983/1991), was widely lauded as the best overview of developmental biology for those in the field in the 90s and noughties, and was essential reading for all grad students at the time.  Its clarity and breadth are still wonderful.

Egg and Ego: an almost true story of life in the biology lab  (1999), was the “follow up” and is a humous, ironic look at a particular time in science and how folk did/do science.  Most of the stories and the labs and PIs are real, and only thinly disguised.  Not many people would have had the “front” to write such a book, but it gives a fantastic, if slightly skewed, portrayal of how cell and developmental biology actually works in labs, and was very well read and received at the time.

More recently Jonathan has published a number of OUP mini books on dev biology related topics: A very short intro to “Stem Cells”(2012) and  “Genes” (2014), both with very recent 2nd editions.  These are semi-lay books and both are fantastic examples of how to distil lots of stuff into the essence of the topic.  Jonathan is masterful at this.

He is also sole author of a text book, Essential Developmental Biology” used by many dev biol programmes at Universities around the world as their course text book.  While not quite as popular as the Gilbert and Wolpert textbooks, this is a beautifully crisp read and about to enter its 4th Edn (for which Les Dale, another of Jonathan’s progenies in now co-author).

Jonathan was very successful as a scientist; indeed, the BSDB awarded him the Waddington medal in 2002 for his contributions in mesoderm induction, regenerative biology and his cell transdifferention research, but he has also been hugely influential through his books.  We think he is someone who is worthy of both the Waddington medal and the Wolpert medal.

Previous Winners:

2022: Andreas Prokop (University of Manchester)

2021: Jamie Davies (University of Edinburgh)

Who we are looking for

Through the WOLPERT medal, the BSDB aims to acknowledge individuals that stand out in enthusing the next generation of developmental biologists or that communicate to raise awareness or teach in any other way topics of our discipline in front of any audience. Nominees are usually outstanding developmental biologists who have made a significant contribution to teaching and communication of UK developmental biology.

Nominations for the Wolpert Medal

(agreed by the BSDB committee)


31st of January each Year.


Formal nominations should be made to the BSDB Secretary ( by the closing deadline each year but can be received at any time.


Must be BSDB member.


One proposer and one seconder (both must be BSDB members).


One single A4 page long statement of support in PDF format jointly signed by the proposer and seconder stating why the nominee is suitable for the medal.


All members on the BSDB committee vote and a simple majority is sufficient to determine the winner. The Wolpert medal winner will be determined at the BSDB committee meeting in December each year.


Nominations for the Wolpert medal will be considered for a total of 3 consecutive years following the date of nomination unless otherwise indicated in the nomination or if the nomination is successful. Eligibility criteria still apply when nomination is rolled over. Nominators can update the nomination if they wish to do so, but this is not a requirement.