Duo double award

24 July 2008

An academic husband and wife at UCL (Unversity College London) have found themselves in the unique position of being both Fellows of the Royal Society (FRS) and Fellows of the British Academy (FBA), an exceptional accomplishment in the history of UCL for an academic couple.

The recent award of the FBA to Professor Chris Frith, announced last week, follows on from his FRS in 2000, while his wife, Professor Uta Frith was elected FBA in 2001 and FRS in 2005.

Uta Frith (born 1941), an Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development at the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience (ICN), is a leading expert on autism and Asperger’s syndrome. She has published more than 200 papers and a number of books on the subject, including ‘Autism: Explaining the Enigma’. Uta Frith was named one of six ‘Women of Outstanding Achievement’ this year by the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology, and is also a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences.

Chris Frith (born 1942), an Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL, has devoted his career to the study of higher cognitive functions in humans using functional brain imaging, as well as exploring the cognitive basis of schizophrenia. Chris Frith has over 400 publications and is author of a number of books including ‘Making up the Mind’.

The couple first met at the Institute of Psychiatry, where both did their PhDs. They married in 1966, and Uta Frith became affiliated to UCL in 1968, moving over to the ICN in 1996. Chris Frith joined UCL in 1994. In the summer of 2006, they held their 40th Wedding Anniversary Party in UCL’s South Cloisters. The couple have two sons: Martin, a computational biologist living in Japan and Alex, who writes and edits science books for children in London.

The Friths have 38 joint publications and are planning to write a book together on social cognitive neuroscience.

They currently feature in a double portrait by Emma Wesley on show at the National Portrait Gallery, in the exhibition of the BP Portrait Award 2008.

Professor Uta Frith says: “I came across autistic children for the first time in the 1960s, and was immediately captivated by them. The strengths and weaknesses of the autistic mind are a perplexing paradox, and nobody has yet been able to fully explain the savant phenomenon. The science of the mind and brain could help us boost our mental capacities in all kinds of ways.”

Professor Chris Frith says: “I have always been interested in exploring the relationship between our minds and our brains. Our brains use signals from our eyes and ears to interpret the world, creating two powerful illusions in the process: one concerning the relationship between our bodies and objects around us, and one concerning our mind’s relationship with the world of ideas. Our ability to share representations of the world makes communication possible and is a key focus for neuroscientists exploring the basis of social interaction.”

Notes for Editors

1. For more information or to set up an interview, please contact contact Jenny Gimpel in the UCL Media Relations Office on tel: +44 (0)20 7679 9726, mobile: +44 (0)7747 565 056, out of hours +44 (0)7917 271 364, e-mail: j.gimpel@ucl.ac.uk.

2. The BP Portrait Awards 2008 are at the National Portrait Gallery (www.npg.org.uk) until 14 September 2008. The portrait of Professors Chris and Uta Frith, by Emma Wesley, is one of the exhibits.