What is life? An evening with Sir Paul Nurse

Sir Paul Nurse delivers an RSE signature event, considering the question ‘What is life?’ by discussing five great ideas of biology.

Nobel prize-winner, Sir Paul Nurse has spent his scientific career revealing the inner workings of living cells. In his recent bestselling book, he takes on the challenge of engaging with potentially the most important question in science: ‘What is life?’

Exploring five great ideas that underpin biology – the cell, the gene, evolution by natural selection, life as chemistry, and life as information – Sir Paul Nurse sets a course towards formulating a definition of life.

You are invited to join this distinguished RSE signature lecture to delve into the contents and concepts in this acclaimed book with Sir Paul Nurse.

Embark on a journey that spans microbiology, chemistry, physics, zoology, and philosophy as we grapple with this profound question.

About the RSE signature event

All are welcome to the RSE’s signature events, designed to educate and encourage new thinking, ideas and conversations. This event aims to amplify the RSE’s mission of ‘knowledge made useful’ by enhancing our understanding of national and global scientific, cultural and economic topics.


Paul Nurse smiling for the camera
Sir Paul Nurse


Sir Paul Nurse OM CH FRS FRSE

Director, Francis Crick Institute

Paul Nurse is a geneticist and cell biologist who works on how the eukaryotic cell cycle is controlled. His major work has been on the cyclin dependent protein kinases and how they regulate cell reproduction. He is Director of the Francis Crick Institute in London, Chancellor of the University of Bristol, and has served as President of the Royal Society, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK and President of Rockefeller University. He shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and has received the Albert Lasker Award, the Gairdner Award, the Louis Jeantet Prize and the Royal Society’s Royal and Copley Medals. He was knighted in 1999 made a Companion of Honour and awarded the Order of Merit in 2022 for services to science and medicine in the UK and abroad, received the Legion d’honneur in 2003 from France, and the Order of the Rising Sun in 2018 from Japan. He served for 15 years on the UK Council of Science and Technology, advising the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and was a Chief Scientific Advisor for the European Union. In 2020 he wrote “What is Life” which has been published in 22 countries. Paul flies gliders and vintage aeroplanes and has been a qualified bush pilot. He also likes the theatre, hill-walking, going to museums and art galleries, and running very slowly.

Adrian Bird wearing glasses and looking at the camera
Professor Sir Adrian Bird FRSE


Professor Sir Adrian Bird FRS FRSE

Buchanan Chair of Genetics at the University of Edinburgh

Adrian Bird holds the Buchanan Chair of Genetics at the University of Edinburgh. After obtaining his PhD in Edinburgh and postdoctoral experience at Yale and Zurich universities, he joined an MRC Unit and later moved to Vienna, returning to Edinburgh in 1990.  His research focuses on DNA methylation and other epigenetic processes, including the molecular mechanisms underlying neurological disorders and their potential reversibility.

Sir Paul Nurse smiling for the camera


Tuesday August 8th, 2023 18:00-19:00


The Royal Society of Edinburgh