Robert May


August 8, 2022

Robert McCredie May, Baron May of Oxford (8 January 1936 – 28 April 2020) was an Australian-born British biologist. He is Chief Scientific Advisor to the British Government, President of the Royal Society of London, and Professor at the Universities of Sydney, Princeton, Oxford and Imperial College London. He is an independent member of the British House of Lords. He has served as President of the British Academic Society for the Advancement of Science.


May was born in Australia and educated at Sydney Boys High School and the University of Sydney. He received his bachelor's degree in 1956 and his doctorate in theoretical physics in 1959, majoring in chemical engineering and theoretical physics. Early in his career, May became interested in animal population dynamics and the complexity and stability of natural populations. He was able to apply the mathematical knowledge he had learned at university to great advances in population biology. His work played an important role in the development of theoretical ecology throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He also applied this research to the study of infectious diseases and the study of biodiversity. May was Assistant Professor of Applied Mathematics at Harvard University from 1959 to 1961. He returned to the University of Sydney in 1962, where he was promoted to Assistant Professor, Associate Professor and Professor of Theoretical Physics (1972). Later he was Professor of Zoology at Princeton University, Imperial College London and Oxford University. From 1995 to 2000 he was Director General of Science and Technology and from 2000 to 2005 President of the Royal Society of London. He has also served on the Trustees and Trustees of the British Museum of Natural History, Kew Gardens, the World Wildlife Fund, and is President of the British Ecological Society. In 1996, May urged British scientists not to be awarded the Ig Nobel Prize, believing that it might give the British public a false image and deprive them of interest in worthwhile research. was criticized by domestic scientists. He was knighted in 1996 and made a recipient of the Order of Australia in 1998. In 2001 he was made a life peer. Initially he wanted the title of baronet to be Woollahra, but negotiations with the Australian Prime Minister's Office failed and he ended up as Baron May of Oxford, Oxfordshire. He was awarded the Order of Merit in 2002. He was elected a member of the Royal Society of London in 1979, an overseas member of the Australian Academy of Sciences in 1991, and a foreign member of the United States National Academy of Sciences in 1992.


1984 Robert H. MacArthur Award 1985 Clunian Medal 1991 Linnaeus Medal (from the Linnean Society of London) 1995 Frink Medal (from the Zoological Society of London) 1996 Crafoord Award 1998 Balzan Prize 2001 Blue Planet Prize 2007 Copley Medal 2011 Dirac Medal (from University of New South Wales)



Nowak, M.A. R.M. May. 2000. Virus Dynamics: the Mathematical Foundations of Immunology and Virology. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-850418-7 Magurran, A.E. and R.M. May (eds.). 1999. Evolution of Biological Diversity. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-850304-0 Lawton, J.H. and R.M. May (eds.). 1995. Extinction Rates. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-854829-X Edwards, P.J., R.M. May, N.R. Webb (eds.). 1994. Large Scale Ecology and Conservation Biology. Blackwell Scientific Publishers. Anderson, R.M. and R.M. May. 1991. Infectious Diseases of Humans: Transmission and Control. Oxford University Press.ISBN 0-19