In memoriam: Oxford Brookes pays tribute to Professor Chris Hawes

Monday, 08 July 2019

Tribute to Prof Chris Hawes

Oxford Brookes University has received the sad news that Professor Chris Hawes died on Thursday (4 July 2019).

Professor Hawes was an internationally recognised researcher and a highly respected colleague who joined the University in 1989.

Chris made a unique contribution to the development of biological science as well as to the many scientists he worked with, supervised and taught. He had a global reputation for the quality of his research and will be greatly missed.

Professor David Evans, Associate Dean Research and Knowledge Exchange

He obtained his BSc from the University of Bristol in 1974 and began his career there as a biologist and microscopist where he used light and electron microscopy to study fungi. Professor Hawes then spent a short period as Postdoctoral Research Assistant to Professor David Smith, a leading fungal biologist and a key figure in his early career.

After working as an Electron Microscope Technician at Bristol Polytechnic, Professor Hawes was funded by the Agricultural Research Council to work in Oxford with Professor Bob Whatley and Professor Peter Hirsch. There he applied high voltage electron microscopy to study biological materials - in particular the spatial organisation of the plant cell cytoplasm.

It was here that Professor Hawes was able to develop his independence as a researcher and in 1983 became one of the first cohort of highly prestigious Royal Society University Research Fellows, working in the Plant Sciences Department of the University of Oxford. During this period he developed his work on the plant cytoplasm and began an investigation of plant clathrin coated vesicles and the uptake of macromolecules by endocytosis.

In 1989, Professor Hawes moved to Oxford Polytechnic, now Oxford Brookes, as Senior Lecturer, then Reader, and ultimately attained the highest grade of professorship awarded by the University. His passion for plant science and advanced microscopy resulted in the development of an internationally renowned research group studying the organisation and function of the plant endomembrane system, more specifically aspects relating to ER and Golgi body biogenesis and interaction.

His work resulted in numerous high impact papers - currently more than 13,000 citations, with a Google Scholar h-index of 64 - and continued to challenge models for the structure and function of plant cell membrane systems right up to his death. His co-edited book Plant Cell Biology: A Practical Approach with long-term collaborator Béatrice Satiat-Jeunemaitre was published by Oxford University Press in 2001 and provided a key resource for plant scientists.

Professor Hawes was not only dedicated to his research; he was passionate about passing on his skills and enthusiasm to others. He will be remembered by the many generations of students he taught and tutored - not least for the Advanced Cell Biology module he led for many years.
He was also key to innovations like a student-led research conference with international key note speakers and hands on experience of the advanced microscopes in the Bioimaging Centre that Professor Hawes had built up, always equipped with the most advanced equipment available.

He was a committed and supportive PhD supervisor, who supervised more than 20 research students and, as Department Postgraduate Research Tutor, supported many more through their research degrees. His passion for science communication led to the development of outreach activity in the University, with many of his PhD students gaining their first experience of public engagement through the annual Science Bazaar and University Open Days. As research lead, he facilitated the development of research across the Department and helped numerous early career researchers to develop.

Outside of the University, Professor Hawes had an international reputation for his research, work with industry and vision for the development of microscopy as a field. He had a career-long commitment to the Royal Microscopical Society (RMS), becoming its President from 2004 to 2006, and was key in organising scientific meetings, courses and conferences as well as a huge number of outreach activities for the society. In 2015 he was honoured with the highly prestigious Honorary Fellowship of the RMS.

Professor David Evans, Associate Dean Research and Knowledge Exchange at Oxford Brookes University, commented: “Chris made a unique contribution to the development of biological science as well as to the many scientists he worked with, supervised and taught. He had a global reputation for the quality of his research and will be greatly missed. Oxford Brookes University will remain committed to building on the legacy of an inspirational colleague. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time.”