James Lovelock CBE (26th July 1919-26th July 2022)

It was with great sadness that The Chromatographic Society learned of the passing of Professor James Ephraim Lovelock on the 26th July 2022 at the age of 103. Born in Letchworth Garden City in 1919, he received his BSc in Chemistry from the University of Manchester and his Ph.D. in Medicine from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine before moving on to work at many universities and institutes in the UK and USA. While Professor Lovelock received many accolades regarding his development of the ‘Gaia theory’ (which postulated that the Earth is a self-regulating system able to keep the climate and chemical composition suitable for organisms [1,2]), he was well known in the field of chromatography for the development of a variety of detectors used in gas chromatography (GC). Most notable of these was the electron capture detector (ECD) [3,4] which he developed at Yale University in 1956 which helped detect the presence of persistent pesticides in the environment in the 1960s. Lovelock proposed this was the technology that helped establish the environmental movement. In the early-1970s, this detector was used to discover and measure chlorofluorocarbons (which led to the removal of all but the most essential halocarbon applications) [5] and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere (which leads to acid rain formation). Another important invention was the palladium transmodulator, a device whose use was crucial for the GC-MS instrumentation aboard the Viking spacecraft that launched for Mars in 1975.

In the field of chromatography Lovelock was awarded several accolades including the Tswett Medal, the American Chemical Society Award in Chromatography and the Dal Nogare award. He was also made an Honorary Member of The Chromatographic Society in 1995. It is clear that Professor Lovelock had a profound impact on understanding climate change. It is also arguable we may never see a scientist with such wide-reaching impact again . Further information on Professor’s incredible life are detailed here: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jul/27/james-lovelock-obituary

  1. Lovelock. Gaia – The world as a living organism. New Scientist (1986), 112, 25-28.
  2. E. Lovelock. Hands up for the Gaia hypothesis. Nature (1990), 344, 100-102.
  3. E. Lovelock. Electron-capture detector. Theory and practice. Journal of Chromatography (1974), 3-12.
  4. E. Lovelock. Electron-capture detector. Theory and practice 2. Journal of Chromatography (1978), 158, 123-138.
  5. E. Lovelock & P.G. Simmonds. Approach to accurate determination of ambient halocarbons by electron capture detection. Papers of the American Chemical Society (1978), 176, 160.