Edinburgh Award 2022: Sir Geoff Palmer honoured for his contribution to the city

Academic and human rights campaigner Professor Sir Geoff Palmer has been named as the recipent of this year’s Edinburgh Award for residents whose achievements have made an outstanding contribution to the Capital.

Sir Geoff first came to Edinburgh as a research student in 1964.
Sir Geoff first came to Edinburgh as a research student in 1964.

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Sir Geoff, who is Professor Emeritus and Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University, was Scotland’s first black professor and just last month published a review of Edinburgh’s links with slavery and colonialism, which recommended the council should make an official policy for the city’s involvement.

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Announcing the award, the council praised Sir Geoff's “ground-breaking contributions to academia, and his indefatigable defence of human rights in Edinburgh and beyond”.

He will be presented with an engraved Loving Cup from the Lord Provost and have his handprints set in stone at the City Chambers later this year.

Born in Jamaica in 1940, Sir Geoff first arrived in Edinburgh in 1964 to pursue a PhD in grain science and technology jointly with the then Heriot-Watt College and the University of Edinburgh. Upon completion of his doctorate in 1967 he began working at the Brewing Research Foundation where he developed the industrial process of barley abrasion and pioneered the use of the scanning electron microscope to study cereal grains.

In 1977, he returned to Heriot-Watt University as a staff member and gained a DSc degree for his research work in 1985. In 1989 he became the first black professor in Scotland and remained in Edinburgh until his retirement in 2005. In 2021 he was appointed Chancellor of Heriot-Watt.

He was knighted in the 2014 New Year’s Honours for services to human rights, science, and charity. In 2018, he was appointed Jamaica’s first Honorary Consul in Scotland and is the 2020 recipient of the Jamaican national honour, the Order of Distinction (Commander Class).

He took on the task of chairing the independent slavery and colonialism review in December 2020 and its recommendations were endorsed unanimously by councillors last month.

Sir Geoff will become the 16th recipient of the Edinburgh Award. Others who have received the honour include Alexander McCall Smith, Ken Buchanan, Sir Tom Farmer, Richard Demarco, Sir Chris Hoy, JK Rowling and Ian Rankin.

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Lord Provost Robert Aldridge said: “In a career spanning over 50 years, Sir Geoff has made an indelible mark on the life sciences and is a shining example to the world of Edinburgh’s academic prowess, force, and rigour.

“Alongside his academic achievements Sir Geoff has been instrumental in examining Edinburgh’s past and helping us collectively move forward as a city. As chair of the Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group he has conducted himself with absolute distinction and provided a firm foundation for Edinburgh’s future as a modern, conscious, and considerate capital city.

“The Edinburgh Award, nominated by the public, identifies individuals that have made an extraordinary impact on our capital city. Sir Geoff has contributed substantially to the betterment of this great city, and I am confident his legacy both in academia and activism will live on for many years to come.

Sir Geoff said: “This award is more than a great honour; it is a recognition of all the people whose goodness has contributed to my life and work.”

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