Lovelock, Sir James Ephraim (1919 – ) English Chemist

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Sir James Ephraim Lovelock (1919 )
English chemist

Sir James Lovelock is the framer of the Gaia hypothesis and developer of, among many other devices, the electron capture gas chromatographic detector. The highly selective nature and great sensitivity of this detector made possible not only the identification of chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere , but led to the measurement of many pesticides, thus providing the raw data that underlie Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.

Sir James Lovelock was born in Letchworth Garden City, earned his degree in chemistry from Manchester University, and took a Ph.D. in medicine from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. His early studies in medical topics included work at Harvard University Medical School and Yale University. He spent three years as a professor of chemistry at Baylor University College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. It was from that position that his work with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA began.

The Gaia hypothesis, Sir James Lovelock's most significant contribution to date, grew out of the work of Sir James Lovelock and his colleagues at the lab. While attempting to design experiments for life detection on Mars, Sir James Lovelock, Dian Hitchcock, and later Lynn Margulis, posed the question, "If I were a Martian, how would I go about detecting life on Earth?" Looking in this way, the team soon realized that our atmosphere is a clear sign of life and it is totally impossible as a product of strictly chemical equilibria. One consequence of viewing life on this or another world as a single homeostatic organism is that energy will be found concentrated in certain locations rather than spread evenly, frequently, or even predominantly, as chemical energy. Thus, against all probability , the earth has an atmosphere containing about 21% free oxygen and has had about this much for millions of years. Sir James Lovelock bestowed on this superorganism comprising the whole of the biosphere the name "Gaia," one spelling of the name of the Greek earth-goddess, at the suggestion of a neighbor, William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies.

Sir James Lovelock's hypothesis was initially attacked as requiring the whole of life on earth to have purpose, and hence in some sense, common intelligence. Sir James Lovelock then developed a computer model called "Daisyworld" in which the presence of black and white daisies controlled the global temperature of the planet to a nearly constant value despite a major increase in the heat output of its sun. The concept that the biosphere keeps the environment constant has been attacked as sanctioning environmental degradation , and accusers took a cynical view of Sir James Lovelock's service to the British petrochemical industry. However, the hypothesis has served the environmental community well in suggesting many ideas for further studies, virtually all of which have given results predicted by the hypothesis.

Since 1964, Sir James Lovelock has operated a private consulting practice, first out of his home in Bowerchalke, near Salisbury, England, and later from a home near Launceston, Cornwall. He has authored over 200 scientific papers, covering research that ranged from techniques for freezing and successfully reviving hamsters to global systems science, which he has proposed to call geophysiology. Sir James Lovelock has been honored by his peers worldwide with numerous awards and honorary degrees, including Fellow of the Royal Society. He was also named a Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in 1990.

[James P. Lodge Jr. ]



Joseph, L. E. Gaia: The Growth of an Idea. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990.

Lovelock, J. The Ages of Gaia, A Biography of Our Living Earth. New York: Norton, 1988.

. Gaia, a New Look at Life on Earth. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979.

, and M. Allaby. The Greening of Mars. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1984.