The Copley Medal is a scientific award given by the Royal Society, London, for "outstanding achievements in research in any branch of science." It alternates between the physical and the biological sciences. Given every year, the medal is the oldest Royal Society medal still awarded, and probably the oldest surviving scientific award in the world, having first been given in 1731 to Stephen Gray, for "his new Electrical Experiments: – as an encouragement to him for the readiness he has always shown in obliging the Society with his discoveries and improvements in this part of Natural Knowledge".
The medal was created following a donation of £100 to be used for carrying out experiments by Sir Godfrey Copley, for which the interest on the amount was used for several years. The conditions for the medal have been changed several times; in 1736, it was suggested that "a medal or other honorary prize should be bestowed on the person whose experiment should be best approved", and this remained the rule until 1831, when the conditions were changed so that the medal would be awarded to the researcher that the Royal Society Council decided most deserved it. A second donation of £1666 13s. 4d. was made by Sir Joseph William Copley in 1881, and the interest from that amount is used to pay for the medal. The medal in its current format is made of silver gilt and awarded with a £5000 prize.
Since its inception, it has been awarded to many notable scientists, including 52 winners of the Nobel Prize: 17 in Physics, 21 in Physiology or Medicine, and 14 in Chemistry.
John Theophilus Desaguliers has won the medal the most often, winning in 1734, 1736 and 1741. In 1976, Dorothy Hodgkin became the first and as of 2015 the only female recipient.