James Lovelock – chemist, environmentalist and Gaia hypothesis theorist

To commemorate the College’s bicentenary in 2023, we’re showcasing 200 ‘Birkbeck Effects’ which capture the incredible stories of our vibrant and diverse community, highlighting their achievements and impact on the world. 

James Lovelock

James Lovelock is best known as the originator of the Gaia hypothesis, the idea that the Earth is a self-regulating system, with that evidence forming Gaia theory. Among his numerous and notable inventions are the electron capture detector, making possible the detection of ozone-damaging CFC gases, and the microwave oven.  

James studied chemistry at Birkbeck College, just before the start of the Second World War, and in 2008 was made a Fellow of the College. He was brought up a Quaker and indoctrinated with the notion that God is a still, small voice within. 

He was viewed as one of the UK’s most respected independent scientists and never officially retired, taking daily two-to-three-mile walks until his later years, and publishing his book Novacene, an argument for the emergence of a new age from existing artificial intelligence systems, just before his hundredth birthday. 

James died in 2022, on the day of his 103rd birthday and, besides his scientific achievements, will be remembered as an environmentalist with his research highlighting some of the most recent environ


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