James Ephraim Lovelock was born on 26 July 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.
In l954 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 more than 200 scientific papers, distributed almost equally among topics in Medicine, Biology, Instrument and Atmospheric Science and Geophysiology. He has applied for more than 40 patents, mostly for detectors for use in chemical analysis.
One of these, the electron capture detector (ECD), was important in the development of environmental awareness. It confirmed the ubiquitous distribution of pesticide residues and other halogen bearing chemicals. This information, together with Rachel Carson’s seminal book, Silent Spring, is often said to have initiated the awareness of environmental disturbance. Later the ECD enabled the discovery of the PCBs in the natural environment. More recently it 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 is the originator of the Gaia Hypothesis (now Gaia Theory) and has written three books on the subject: Gaia: a new look at life on Earth (Oxford University Press, 1979); The Ages of Gaia (WW Norton, 1988); Gaia: the practical science of planetary medicine (Gaia Books, 1991); and an autobiography, Homage to Gaia (Oxford University Press, 2000). His latest book is The Revenge of Gaia (Allen Lane/Penguin 2006).
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1974 and in 1975 received the Tswett Medal for Chromatography. Earlier he received a CIBA Foundation Prize for research into Ageing. In 1980 he received the American Chemical Society’s award for Chromatography and in 1986 the Silver Medal and Prize of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory. In 1988 he was a recipient of the Norbert Gerbier Prize of the World Meteorological Organization, and in 1990 was awarded the first Amsterdam Prize for the Environment by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1996 he received the Volvo Prize for the Environment and in 1997 the Blue Planet Prize. He has received honorary Doctorates in Science from the University East Anglia 1982, Exeter University 1988, Plymouth Polytechnic (now Plymouth University) 1988, Stockholm University 1991, University of Edinburgh 1993, University of Kent 1996 and the University of Colorado (at Boulder) 1997. He was made a C.B.E. in 1990, and in 2003 a Companion of Honour by Her Majesty the Queen.
James Lovelock’s first interest is the Life Sciences, originally as Medical Research but more recently in Geophysiology, the systems science of the Earth. His second interest that of instrument design and development, has often interacted with the first to their mutual benefit.
He has been since 1994 an Honorary Visiting Fellow of Green College, University of Oxford.