Professor Wenfei Fan Elected as Fellow of the Royal Society

Professor Wenfei Fan, chief scientist of Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Big Data and Brain Computing at Beihang University, was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society among fifty other eminent scientists in May 2018, due to his "outstanding achievements as a researcher".

Professor Fan is a computer scientist who has made fundamental contributions to both theory and practice of data management. He has both formalized the problems of querying big data and has developed radically new techniques that overcome the limits associated with conventional database systems. In addition, he has made seminal contributions to data quality, in which he devised new techniques for data cleaning that have found wide commercial adoption.  He has also contributed to our understanding of semi-structured data.

Professor Fan is one of the top“all-around” database researchers in the world. He is a recipient of the Best Paper Award for ACM SIGMOD Conference on Management of Data (2017), the Alberto O. Mendelzon Test-of-Time Award of ACM Symposium on Principles of Database Systems (PODS) for papers with the highest impact over 10 years (2015 and 2010), the Best Paper Award for International Conference on Very Large Data Bases (VLDB, 2010), and the Best Paper Award of IEEE International Conference on Data Engineering (ICDE, 2007). He is the Chair Professor of Web Data Management at the University of Edinburgh, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (UK), a Member of Academia Europaea (the Academy of Europe), and a Fellow of the ACM (USA).

Founded in 1660, the Royal Society is the national scientific institution with the longest history in the world. The society is the United Kingdom's and Commonwealth of Nations' Academy of Sciences and fulfils a number of roles, to recognize, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity. Each year the Royal Society elects up to 52 new fellows who join a cohort of the around 1,600 of the world's most eminent scientists.

“Our Fellows are key to the Royal Society’s fundamental purpose of using science for the benefit of humanity. From Norwich to Melbourne to Ethiopia, this year’s newly elected Fellows and Foreign Members of the Royal Society are testament that science is a global endeavour and excellent ideas transcend borders. We also recognise the cutting edge innovation taking place across industry, with many of this year’s Fellows coming from the thriving tech industry. For their outstanding contributions to research and innovation, both now and in the future, it gives me great pleasure to welcome the world’s best scientists into the ranks of the Royal Society”, as put by Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, the President of the Royal Society.


History of the Royal Society

The story of the Royal Society is the story of modern science.

It started from a 1660 ‘invisible college’ of natural philosophers and physicians. Today it is the UK’s national science academy and a Fellowship of some 1,600 of the world’s most eminent scientists.

Nullius in verba

The very first ‘learned society’ meeting on 28 November 1660 followed a lecture at Gresham College by Christopher Wren. Joined by other leading polymaths including Robert Boyle and John Wilkins, the group soon received royal approval, and from 1663 it would be known as 'The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge'.

The Royal Society's motto 'Nullius in verba' is taken to mean 'take nobody's word for it'. It is an expression of the determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment.

Advancements and adventure

The early years of the Society saw revolutionary advancements in the conduct and communication of science. Hooke’s Micrographia and the first issue of Philosophical Transactions were published in 1665 alone. Philosophical Transactions, which established the important concepts of scientific priority and peer review, is now the oldest continuously-published science journal in the world.

It published Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica, and Benjamin Franklin’s kite experiment demonstrating the electrical nature of lightning. It backed James Cook’s journey to Tahiti, reaching Australia and New Zealand, to track the Transit of Venus. It published the first report in English of inoculation against disease, approved Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine, documented the eruption of Krakatoa and published Chadwick’s detection of the neutron that would lead to the unleashing of the atom.

The leading scientific lights of the past four centuries can all be found among the 8,000 Fellows elected to the Society to date. From Newton to Darwin to Einstein and beyond, pioneers and paragons in their fields are elected by their peers. Current Fellows include Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking and Tim Berners-Lee.


Over time, the criteria for, and transparency of election to the Fellowship became stricter, and Fellows were elected solely on the merit of their scientific work. The first female Fellows were elected in 1945 – Dorothy Hodgkin, elected in 1947, remains Britain’s only female Nobel Prize-winning scientist.

In the 19th century, a Parliamentary Grant system was introduced, allowing the Society to aid scientific development while remaining an independent body. The Society now allocates nearly £42 million each year from government grants and donations and legacies from organizations and individuals.

Peter Collins, Emeritus Director at the Royal Society, has written about the history of the Society’s postwar activities in The Royal Society and the promotion of science since 1960 (published by Cambridge University Press in 2015).

Through its policy work, journals, scientific meetings, events, worldwide partnerships and grants and awards, the Royal Society works to support excellence in science, building a home and future for science in the UK.