BCB World News Obits Desk: December 31, 2010
The world mourns the passing of British scientist and climate activist James Lovelock who did so much to try to warn Earthlings about the fate that awaits them. Tragically, very few listened to him.
Lovelock was born on July 26, 1919 in Letchworth Garden City in the United Kingdom. He graduated as a chemist from Manchester University in 1941 and in 1948 received a Ph.D. degree in medicine from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In 1959 he received the D.Sc. degree in biophysics from London University. After graduating from Manchester he started employment with the Medical Research Council at the National Institute for Medical Research in London, but five years between 1946 and 1951 were spent at the Common CoId Research Unit at Harvard Hospital in Salisbury, Wiltshire.
In 1954 he was awarded the Rockefeller Travelling Fellowship in Medicine and chose to spend it at Harvard University Medical School in Boston. In 1958 he visited Yale University for a similar period. He resigned from the National Institute in London in 1961 to take up full time employment as Professor of Chemistry at Baylor University College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, where he remained until 1964. During his stay in Texas he collaborated with colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California on Lunar and Planetary Research. Since 1964 he has conducted an independent practice in science, although continuing honorary academic associations as a visiting professor, first at the University of Houston and then at the University of Reading in the U.K. Since 1982 he has been associated with the Marine Biological Association at Plymouth, first as a council member, and from 1986 to 1990 as its president.
James Lovelock is the author of approximately 200 scientific papers, distributed almost equally among topics in Medicine, Biology, Instrument Science and Geophysiology. He has filed more than 50 patents, mostly for detectors for use in chemical analysis. One of these, the electron capture detector, was important in the development of environmental awareness. It revealed for the first time the ubiquitous distribution of pesticide residues and other halogen bearing chemicals. This information enabled Rachel Carson to write her book, Silent Spring, often said to have initiated the awareness of environmental disturbance. Later it enabled the discovery of the presence of PCB's in the natural environment. More recently the electron capture detector was responsible for the discovery of the global distribution of nitrous oxide and of the chlorofluorocarbons, both of which are important in the stratospheric chemistry of ozone. Some of his inventions were adopted by NASA in their programme of planetary exploration. He was awarded by NASA three certificates of recognition for these.
He was the originator of the Gaia Hypothesis (now Gaia Theory) and has written four books on the subject: Gaia: a new look at life on Earth, (Oxford University Press, 1979); The Ages of Gaia, (W. W. Norton, 1988); Gaia: the practical science of planetary medicine, (Gaia Books, 1991), and Homage to Gaia (2000).
The world will miss this gifted scientist. It's a pity that so few listened to him while he was alive.