Fellow of the Royal Society


Fellow of the Royal Society

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Fellowship of the Royal Society
The Royal Society.jpg

Headquarters of the Royal Society in Carlton House Terrace in London
Awarded for “contributions to the improvement of natural knowledge”
Sponsored by Royal Society
Date 1663
Location London
Country United Kingdom
Total no. of Fellows Approximately 8000 in total with 1707 living as of June 2019
Website royalsociety.org/fellows

Fellowship of the Royal Society (FRSForMemRS and HonFRS) is an award granted by the judges of the Royal Society of London to individuals who have made a ‘substantial contribution to the improvement of natural knowledge, including mathematicsengineering science, and medical science‘.

Isaac Newton was one of the earliest fellows of the Royal Society, elected in 1672

Fellowship of the Society, the oldest known scientific academy in continuous existence, is a significant honour. It has been awarded to many eminent scientists throughout history, including Isaac Newton (1672),[2] Charles Darwin (1839),[2] Michael Faraday (1824),[2] Ernest Rutherford (1903),[4] Srinivasa Ramanujan (1918),[5] Albert Einstein (1921),[6] Winston Churchill (1941), Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1944),[7] Dorothy Hodgkin (1947),[8] Alan Turing (1951)[9] and Francis Crick (1959).[10][11] More recently, fellowship has been awarded to Stephen Hawking (1974), Tim Hunt (1991), Elizabeth Blackburn (1992), Tim Berners-Lee (2001), Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (2003), Atta-ur Rahman (2006),[12] Andre Geim (2007),[13] James Dyson (2015), Ajay Kumar Sood (2015), Subhash Khot (2017), Elon Musk (2018),[14] and around 8,000 others in total,[2] including over 280 Nobel Laureates since 1900. As of October 2018, there are approximately 1689 living Fellows, Foreign and Honorary Members, of which over 60 are Nobel Laureates.[3][15]

Fellowship of the Royal Society has been described by The Guardian newspaper as “the equivalent of a lifetime achievement Oscar with several institutions celebrating their announcement each year.


Stephen Hawking was elected a Fellow in 1974[24]

Up to 60 new Fellows (FRS), honorary (HonFRS) and foreign members (ForMemRS) are elected annually in late April or early May, from a pool of around 700 proposed candidates each year.[25] New Fellows can only be nominated by existing Fellows for one of the fellowships described below:


Every year, up to 52 new Fellows are elected from the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Nations which make up around 90% of the society.[1] Each candidate is considered on their merits and can be proposed from any sector of the scientific community. Fellows are elected for life on the basis of excellence in science and are entitled to use the post-nominal letters FRS.[1]

Foreign Member

Jennifer Doudna was elected a Foreign Member in 2016

Every year, Fellows elect up to ten new Foreign Members. Like Fellows, Foreign Members are elected for life through peer review on the basis of excellence in science. As of 2016, there are around 165 Foreign Members, who are entitled to use the post-nominal ForMemRS.[26]

Honorary Fellow

Bill Bryson was elected an Honorary Member in 2013

Honorary Fellowship is an honorary academic title awarded to candidates who have given distinguished service to the cause of science, but do not have the kind of scientific achievements required of Fellows or Foreign Members. Honorary Fellows include Bill Bryson (2013), Melvyn Bragg (2010), Robin Saxby (2015), David Sainsbury, Baron Sainsbury of Turville (2008) and Onora O’Neill (2007). Honorary Fellows are entitled to use the post nominal letters HonFRS.[27] Others including John Maddox (2000),[28] Patrick Moore (2001) and Lisa Jardine (2015)[29][30] were elected as honorary fellows.

Former Statute 12 fellowships

David Attenborough was elected a Fellow in 1983, under former statute 12

Statute 12 is a legacy mechanism for electing members before official honorary membership existed in 1997.[citation needed] Fellows elected under statute 12 include David Attenborough (1983) and John Palmer, 4th Earl of Selborne (1991).

Royal Fellow

The Council of the Royal Society can recommend members of the British Royal Family for election as Royal Fellow of the Royal Society. As of 2016 there are five royal fellows:

  1. Charles, Prince of Wales elected 1978[31]
  2. Anne, Princess Royal elected 1987[32]
  3. Prince Edward, Duke of Kent elected 1990[33]
  4. Prince William, Duke of Cambridge elected 2009[34]
  5. Prince Andrew, Duke of York elected 2013[35]

Her Majesty the Queen, Elizabeth II is not a Royal Fellow, but provides her patronage to the Society as all reigning British monarchs have done since Charles II of EnglandPrince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1951) was elected under statute 12, not as a Royal Fellow.[36]

Election of new fellows

The election of new fellows is announced annually in May, after their nomination and a period of peer-reviewed selection.[1]


Each candidate for Fellowship or Foreign Membership is nominated by two Fellows of the Royal Society (a proposer and a seconder), who sign a certificate of proposal.[37] Previously, nominations required at least five fellows to support each nomination by the proposer,[37] which was criticised for supposedly establishing an old-boy network and elitist gentlemen’s club.[38][39][40] The certificate of election (see for example[41]) includes a statement of the principal grounds on which the proposal is being made. There is no limit on the number of nominations made each year. In 2015, there were 654 candidates for election as Fellows and 106 candidates for Foreign Membership.[1]


The Council of the Royal Society oversees the selection process and appoints 10 subject area committees, known as Sectional Committees,[15] to recommend the strongest candidates for election to the Fellowship. The final list of up to 52 Fellowship candidates and up to 10 Foreign Membership candidates is confirmed by the Council in April and a secret ballot of Fellows is held at a meeting in May. A candidate is elected if he or she secures two-thirds of votes of those Fellows present and voting.

A maximum of 18 Fellowships can be allocated to candidates from Physical Sciences and Biological Sciences; and up to 10 from Applied Sciences, Human Sciences and Joint Physical and Biological Sciences. A further maximum of 6 can be ‘Honorary’, ‘General’ or ‘Royal’ Fellows. Nominations for Fellowship are peer reviewed by sectional committees, each with 15 members and a chair. Members of the 10 sectional committees change every 3 years to mitigate in-group bias,[37] each group covers different specialist areas including:

  1. Mathematics
  2. Astronomy and physics
  3. Chemistry
  4. Engineering
  5. Earth science and environmental science
  6. Biochemistry and molecular cell biology
  7. Microbiologyimmunology and developmental biology
  8. Anatomyphysiology and neuroscience
  9. Organismal biologyevolution and ecology
  10. Health and human sciences[42]


New Fellows are admitted to the Society at a formal admissions day ceremony held annually in July,[43] when they sign the Charter Book and the Obligation which reads: “We who have hereunto subscribed, do hereby promise, that we will endeavour to promote the good of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, and to pursue the ends for which the same was founded; that we will carry out, as far as we are able, those actions requested of us in the name of the Council; and that we will observe the Statutes and Standing Orders of the said Society. Provided that, whensoever any of us shall signify to the President under our hands, that we desire to withdraw from the Society, we shall be free from this Obligation for the future”.[1]

Since 2014, portraits of Fellows at the admissions ceremony have been published without copyright restrictions in Wikimedia Commons under a more permissive Creative Commons license which allows wider re-use.[44][45]

Research Fellowships and other awards

Brian Cox, a professor of physics, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2016 having previously held a Royal Society University Research Fellowship (URF) from 2005 to 2013[46]

In addition to the main Fellowships of the Royal Society (FRS, ForMemRS & HonFRS), other fellowships are available which are applied for by individuals, rather than through election. Holders of these fellowships are known as Royal Society Research Fellows.[47]

In addition to the award of Fellowship (FRS, HonFRS & ForMemRS) and the Research Fellowships described above, several other awards, lectures and medals of the Royal Society are also given.