James Lovelock essays, lectures and other writings

Papers by James Lovelock

Transfer of respiratory infection

This was my first work for the MRC starting when I was 21. It continued until 1951. The significant papers of this period are marked "†" and include the development of a series of effective aerial bactericides from a theory of their action.

The following fourteen papers were published in Studies in Air Hygiene, Medical Research Council Special Report Series No. 262, H.M.S.O., London:

Biochemistry and biophysics

Here are a few papers on subjects ranging from blood coagulation to lipid biochemistry. A few of them are marked by a "† " to indicate that I thought them to be notable.


The discovery of the principal cause of damage to living cells during freezing and thawing and the mechanism of the protective action of neutral solutes are described in the papers below. The knowledge gathered was used to predict that dimethyl sulphoxide would be an excellent substance to protect living cells. The freezing of hamsters and their reanimation was splendid performing circus stuff.

Scientific instruments

The Ionisation Anemometer was the first of a series of inventions to use gaseous ionisation phenomena as a way of transducing a signal about the chemical or physical properties of a gas. It led to the development of the Electron Capture Detector, which was used to discover the global distribution of halocarbons, and helped to initiate the Environmental Movement. The Argon and Helium ionisation detectors were the first sensitive detectors for gas chromatography and helped to establish it as an analytical method. The photoionisation detector was another. The Palladium Transmodulator is a simple interface between a GC and a mass spectrometer. It made possible the GCMS experiment on the Viking spacecraft that landed on Mars, and was acknowledged by NASA.

A useful invention is a system that uses an electron capture detector and a chemical separator to isolate and measure perfluorocarbons in the environment down to parts per 1015 by volume. By this means, tracer experiments involving continental sized air masses and large volumes of the oceans have become possible. Only three papers bear on this invention and they are marked by "‡". The other significant papers on inventions are marked "† ".

Atmospheric chemistry

The papers with an "† " are the more significant. They include several firsts: the discovery of the global distribution of CFCs and CC14, of Dimethyl Sulphide and CS2 as natural emissions, of methyl chloride and iodide. The first measurement of stratospheric CFCs and other halocarbons, the first estimate of the global average abundance of the .OH radical.


An invitation from NASA to think of new approaches to planetary life detection led me to a consider life as a global scale phenomenon. This view is touched on in the first paper of the list on the 'Physical Basis for Life Detection' and developed in the second 'Atmospherical Compositional Analysis as a Life Detection Experiment'. Thinking about life this way led me directly to a view of the Earth as a large physiological system, the Gaia Hypothesis. The hypothesis developed slowly against fierce opposition mainly from biologists, who see it as counter Darwin. It is not, but instead is an extension of Darwin, a theory that sees the evolution of the environment and of the organisms, as a single process, with planetary self regulation as an emergent property. Objective evidence that will confirm or deny this view is now coming in. A major shift in biologists' opposition was led in 1999 by W.D. Hamilton, who referred to Gaia Theory as Copernican.

Philosophical papers, books and book reviews

Books on Gaia Theory

Light reading

Biographical memoir

Book Reviews


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