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Alfred Thomas Henry Burness (1934-1991), medical researcher and Professor of Molecular Virology, was born on 10 February 1934 in Birmingham, England, the son of Alfred Charles Burness and Ivy Ravenall. Dr. Burness was one of four children; he had two brothers, Ron and John Leslie, and a sister, Barbara (Lynam). On 25 April 1959, Dr. Burness married Brenda Woods at Liverpool, England, and they had two sons, Gary Paul and Bradley Miles.
Dr. Burness received his early education at the Smith Street Primary School and the George Dixon Grammar School in Birmingham. He went on to earn his PhD in Biochemistry at the University of Liverpool in 1959. Dr. Burness worked in Surrey from 1959 to 1962. He then moved to the United States and took up a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California at Berkeley (1962-1963). After this he returned to Surrey until 1968, when Dr. and Mrs. Burness moved to White Plains, New York State. There Dr. Burness joined the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research in New York (1968-1971). From 1971 to 1976, they lived in Stamford, Connecticut. In 1976, Dr. and Mrs. Burness left the United States and moved to Newfoundland, where Dr. Burness took up a position with the Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University of Newfoundland.
Dr. Burness was the recipient of many awards and honours. In 1983, he won the Medical Research Council of Canada Visiting Scientist Award, which enabled him to spend a year at the Australian National University in Canberra (1983-1984). In 1987, he won the Alberta Heritage Foundation Visiting Lecturer Award. In 1989, Dr. Burness shared the Dr. Albert R. Cox Research Award (a grant of $25,000 awarded for outstanding research at Memorial University) with Dr. Kanwal Richardson for their virus research.
While Dr. Burness was at Memorial University, his scientific work earned in excess of $850,000 in research funding and equipment support from the Medical Research Council, the National Cancer Institute of Canada and the Canadian Diabetes Association. Dr. Burness also published extensively: he wrote numerous articles, papers and books about his medical research specialty, virology.
Dr. Burness was a member of various scholarly societies: the American Society for Virology, the Society for General Microbiology (United Kingdom), the Royal Society of Chemistry (Britain), and the Biochemical Society (United Kingdom). In his spare time, Dr. Burness pursued interests in astronomy and photography.
When Dr. and Mrs. Burness came to Newfoundland they lived in Portugal Cove-St. Phillips, where Mrs. Burness still resides. At the age of 57, Dr. Burness died of cancer on 26 October 1991 at Portugal Cove-St. Phillips. The Dr. Alfred Burness Graduate Student Award was established after his death in honour of his contribution to medical education at Memorial.