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Richards, Francis John


(b. Burton-upon-Trent, England, 1 October 1901; d. Wye, Kent, England, 2 January 1965), Plant Phsiology.

Richards was educated at the University of Birmingham, where he studied botany and biochemistry. In 1926 he joined F. G. Gregory at the Research Institute of Plant Physiology at Imperial College, London. In 1958, when Gregory retired, the Institute was dissolved, and Richards was made director of the new Agricultural Research Council Unit of Plant Morphogenesis and Nutrition at Rothamsted. This unit was later moved to Wye College, Kent. In 1954 he was elected a member of the Royal Society.

Richards is best known for his research on the mineral nutrition of cereal crops, especially the role of potassium and phosphorus. His international reputation has been established by his detailed studies and analyses of growth, respiration, photosynthesis, water content, carbohydrate and nitrogen metabolism in cereals under varying levels of nutrient supply, and his investigations of the substitution or partial replacement of the essential role of potassium by rubidium. This work emphasized that certain nutritional requirements are not absolute but may be a function of the environmental conditions under which plants grow—a view that has led to and still continues to yield important concepts in plant growth and development.

Richards’ studies also disclosed many features of the metabolic consequences associated with mineral nutrient deficiency, such as the accumulation of the amide putrescine under potassium deficiency conditions. Richards appreciated that many factors of the environment interact with nutritional variables. He was one of the first to apply the then newly developed statistical methods to physiological and ecological data. His mathematical skill found expression in the devising of new methods of describing growth rates and leaf pattern production and arrangement in growing points (phyllotaxis).


On Richards’ life and work, see Helen K. Porter, “Francis John Richards 1901–1965,” in Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 12 (1966), 423–436, with complete bibliography; and W. W. Schwabe, “Dr. F. J. Richards, F.R.S.,” in Nature, 205 (1965), 853–854, and “Francis John Richards 1901–1965,” in Plant and Soil, 22 (1965), 319–322.

A. D. Krikorian

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