Biological Sciences

Tributes to Nick Read

Tributes have been paid to Professor Nick Read, an influential mycologist whose world-leading research advanced understanding of fungi.

Professor Nick Read
Professor Nick Read - Image Credit: Patrick Hickey

Nick Read spent much of his career at the School of Biological Sciences, initially as a lecturer in mycology in 1985, before being appointed first reader, then professor in fungal cell biology in 2005.

After nearly three decades at Edinburgh, he moved to the University of Manchester to set up the Manchester Fungal Infection Group, which soon became a major centre of excellence.

Nick served as president of the British Mycological Society and was passionate about popularising his field, producing many stunning videos of fungal cell growth. 

In 2015, Nick was diagnosed with AL amyloidosis. Yet despite considerable incapacity, he continued to contribute to his field until his death on 21 March 2020. 

He is survived by his wife Shenda, two daughters, two stepchildren and a grandson.

Tributes from those in our School and from further afield demonstrate just how much Nick will be missed - a much loved colleague, mentor and friend to many.

I first met Nick when I was an undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh (1995!); he was leading the plant science field course fungi project. His knowledge and enthusiasm for the world of mushrooms and moulds was infectious and it wasn't long before he had secured me funding for a PhD studentship. Together we developed imaging techniques for time-lapse imaging of fungi, which have enchanted both academic and public audiences around the world, and still feature in TV popular science documentaries today.

Nick's lab was full of wonderful, diverse characters. Every year I would assist Nick on the undergraduate field course to Dumfries & Galloway/Aviemore. After a day 'in the field' picking and identifying mushrooms, we'd all retreat to a local hotel for a hot dinner and a pint or two! Lecturers and post grads would draw straws as to who would have to drive the minibus, and everyone, back to base - a caravan site. On the last night we had a huge bonfire on the beach. A great week that will be etched in many students' memories.

Another highlight of the year was the annual trip to Asilomar, California, to the fungal genetics conference. Here we shared our research and made many great friends; Nick was the life and soul of our party, including one unforgettable fireworks party where the audience (including his daughters) had a close encounter with a rocket that went astray!

Other trips included fungi forays and group retreats to Eigg, giant pizzas, cricket on the beach and meeting the mad locals!  There were also conferences in Siena, Jerusalem and Nancy, France. More recently Nick organised a hugely successful IMC9, the largest ever meeting of mycologists in Edinburgh. Here he was in his element.  Nick's enthusiasm, generosity and friendship have had an incredibly positive impact on my life and work. He was a teacher, mentor, colleague and friend. I will think of Nick often and cherish the good times we had.

My past and future research into fungal biology is a dedication to Nick with thanks for his inspiration and friendship. My thoughts are with his lovely wife Shenda, daughters Hannah and Sophie, and the rest of the family. 

Patrick HickeyNIPHT Limited

I worked for Nick at Edinburgh 1985-1988, then after a long career break to bring up my three girls, I formally rejoined the lab 2006-2013. An inspirational group-leader and exceptional microscopist, Nick pushed the boundaries of microscopy in the study of fungal cell biology and beyond, he discovered innovative ways to teach mycology, and on a global scale he was an ambassador for mycology and microscopy. 

Some of the most memorable moments happened when Nick took the lab on retreats to the Isle of Eigg, an island with changeable weather. When it rained it was time for presentations and scientific discussions, but as soon as the sun came out it was time for a walk and a game of beach cricket. Learning how to balance science and life was one of the strengths of working in Nick’s group at Edinburgh. The Read Lab was like an extended family. 

Kathryn TophamSchool of Biological Sciences, The University of Edinburgh

I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear of Nick’s passing. He was a kind and gentle person who had a great love for Scotland and its islands and who loved a good party. I think that he always thought of me as a wild American, and maybe he was not wrong about that. Still he always had time to have a chat and share his wry sense of humour with me when we ran into each other at ICMB gatherings.

Although his science was in a very different area from mine, I always admired his descriptions of his elegant work and was blown away by his imaging.  I missed him since his move, but this news leaves a deeper sadness in that cubbyhole that will always be reserved in my mind for Nick. Please pass my best wishes along to his family and tell them that I will always have fond memories of Nick.

Professor Bill EarnshawSchool of Biological Sciences, The University of Edinburgh


This is sad news of Nick’s untimely departure. I was an undergraduate at Bristol when Nick was completing his PhD. His energy coupled with preternatural professionalism made him an inspiration. Since I heard the news, I have kept picturing his superb electron micrographs of fungi: plump spores, smooth-skinned hyphae, and perithecia looking like miniaturized gourds.

Before Nick set the standard for imaging fungi most investigators published shameful pictures of shriveled cells. Nobody revealed the three-dimensional structure of cells with greater accuracy and beauty than Nick Read. This comment on imaging might seem to strike an insubstantial note, a nod to style above substance, but bear with me for a couple of sentences. 

Think about a well-known researcher in your discipline, and what contribution to science comes first from your subconscious? She wrote that great paper in The Journal of _____ a couple of years ago; he won that award at The Annual Meeting of the _____, etc. Few of our colleagues leave much that is recalled by any of their peers. But I bet that anyone with an interest in fungal cell biology (that numerous community) will carry Nick’s high-fidelity pictures with them for the rest of their perceptive lives.

Nick was an excellent scientist as well as a brilliant artist, who brought many of the hidden features of nature to our attention with unparalleled style. As Milton wrote of his hero, Lycidas, [he] ‘hath not left his peer’.

Nicholas MoneyWestern Program Director and Professor of Biology, Miami University


I met Nick for the first time in his lab in Edinburgh in February 2006 to discuss options to join his group as new PhD student. His open, friendly and engaging character were right away captivating and the starting point of what not only became a wonderful working relationship but also a deep friendship that since then never failed. With his support I received an SBS PhD studentship and moved to Edinburgh in June the same year.

This was the starting point of the best ever PhD time one could wish for. I will always be grateful to Nick for providing me with this opportunity. The exciting, inspiring, productive and scientifically so satisfying time as a member of his Fungal Cell Biology Group will remain the personal highlight of my scientific career. Since then I have never found myself in a more pleasing and more fun research microenvironment. One of the highlights of his group was the colourful mixture of interesting individuals in all kinds of senses; be it nationalities, research interests, characters and quirks. Somehow he always found ways to unite the group. Very memorable in that respect were the annual lab retreats to the Isle of Eigg which I had the great pleasure to join in 2007 and 2008.

We all resided for a few days in an old farm converted into a self-catering lodging house. Each one gave a project presentation followed by long critical discussions and brain storming on which task to focus next. The brain works were complemented by long walks along the beaches, fern valleys and rocky hills of this tiny Scottish island Nick loved so much.

Although I followed his medical struggle over the years and last spoke with him on phone in September 2019, the extremely sad news about his passing hit me like a hammer. Now, more than half a year later, I am still deeply moved writing these lines and simply miss him. I know he held on to numerous projects and it saddens me even more that a lot of his brilliant ideas may remain unfinished. I will certainly continue my work in the wonderful world of moulds in his memory and with his free, dedicated and curious mind as example and scientific guiding light.

Whenever I sit alone in the dark on a microscope looking at glowing stuff inside fungal cells I get my "Edinburgh-feeling” and I am at total peace with myself. Thanks Nick for opening the door into this fascinating world for me.I like to end with a quote from Antonie P. van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723), the Dutch tradesman and scientist, widely regarded as the “Father of Microbiology”:

"I've spent more time than many will believe [making microscopic observations], but I've done them with joy, and I've taken no notice those who have said why take so much trouble and what good is it?”

Alex LichiusDepartment of Microbiology, University of Innsbruck, Austria