RUSSELL FOSTER

The Daylight Award 2020 for Research

The Daylight Award 2020 for Research

Professor Foster is currently Director of the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology and Head of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at the University of Oxford. In 2015, he was honoured with a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to science. He has published nearly 200 scientific publications and authored 4 popular science books. He is a widely sought speaker and lecturer.

In the industrialized modern world, we spend on average 90% of our lives in buildings and the built environment is a primary moderator of the light to which we are exposed. The architectural community acknowledges Professor Foster’s work that identifies the short and long-term health consequences of light and considers the when, what type, and how to encourage light ingress as well as when to provide light reduction and blackout.

Jury reasoning

Russell Foster is a fundamental neuroscientist. His interest is, and has always been, understanding how the body clock (circadian rhythm) and the sleep-wake rhythm are generated and modulated. His early research involved transplanting a specific group of brain cells from one breed of hamster to another breed. In doing so, he was able to demonstrate that it is the brain that sets the rhythm of the body clock.

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But perhaps his most recognized scientific discovery – first in mice and then in humans– was that the eye contains a specialized cell, a light sensor that aligns the body clock and the sleep–wake rhythm to the day-night cycle. Without this specialized cell, we would drift out of time with the day. And this singular discovery has changed fundamental tenets of knowledge regarding the effects of light on biologic systems and human physiology.

In the domain of research, there is often a movement from the bench to the bedside, in other words, the translation of basic laboratory findings to practical health solutions. Some researchers are basic laboratory scientists; others are clinical investigators. Professor Foster is both. His clinical studies in humans address important questions regarding light. How does morning light influence sleep? Why is light at night bad for health? And ultimately the answers to such questions have impacted the medical world in a variety of domains including sleep medicine, psychiatry, neurology, geriatrics, ophthalmology, immunology and even cancer medicine. In identifying the neural substrate for a non-visual light pathway to the brain, Professor Foster has demonstrated the powerful and wide-reaching impact of light on human health.

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