Science Museum acquires James Lovelock Archive


The Science Museum today announced that it has taken possession of the James Lovelock Archive - a valuable collection of documents and artefacts covering the 70 year career of the notable independent scientist.

Professor James Lovelock has made key contributions across a wide range of fields, from the transmission of the common cold and other respiratory infections to cryobiology, including the freezing and reanimation of whole animals, and monitoring pollutants. He is best known for the Gaia hypothesis he developed in the 1960s which proposes that organisms interact with their surroundings to regulate the conditions for life on the planet.

Lord Rees, Astronomer Royal and former President of the Royal Society, calls Lovelock ‘one of the most important independent scientists of the 20th century.’

The Lovelock Archive, which is valued at £300,000, comprises numerous and varied scientific notebooks; charts and data; manuscripts of Professor Lovelock’s books; articles and lectures; patent material, photographs, audio-visual material and offprints.

Notable items include correspondence with high profile individuals including the Duke of Edinburgh, Margaret Thatcher, Carl Sagan, Victor Lord Rothschild, Professors William Hamilton, John Maynard Smith and Lynn Margulis and Linus Pauling.

In addition to the Archive, the Science Museum has also been donated various items of equipment previously stored in Professor Lovelock’s laboratory and which include a Hewlett Packard computer that he used to program an artificial world, known as the ‘Daisyworld’ model, to explore his Gaia theory. 

Prominent in the collection is the Electron Capture Detector which he invented in 1956, which is a simple inexpensive device capable of detecting femtogram levels of the environmentally harmful compounds DDT, PCBs CFCs and a range of carcinogens. In1967 Lovelock used it measured the supposedly clean air blowing off the Atlantic onto the West coast of Ireland and found that it contained CFCs, now known to cause ozone depletion. 

In 1971-72 he organised an expedition, using his own funds, which sailed on the NERC research vessel, the Shackelton to Antarctica and back, measuring CFCs and other gases in the air and sea, and so provided the base data that led to the Montreal Protocol banning the emission of CFCs. 

The collection includes the chromatograph built in his home laboratory that was used throughout the voyage.

In September 2007, with Professor Chris Rapley, former Director of the Science Museum, Lovelock proposed the construction of ocean pumps to take water from the depths to fertilize algae in the surface waters to absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. *See Notes to Editors.

Rupert Williams, Head of Library and Archives said, “The value and importance of the Lovelock Archive is of great significance to the Science Museum, especially given the international profile and influence of James Lovelock and his work.”

Professor James Lovelock said, ”I am delighted that the Science Museum has chosen to purchase this collection  and I hope that it will show the next generation how it is possible to do scientific research as a lone inventor and scientist. I attribute the science I have done to the inspiration I received from visits to the museum from the age of 7 onwards.”

The Lovelock Archive also signals a renewed focus of the museum on its collections, in this case of archives on prominent living scientists.

The Museum is now looking to catalogue and make the archive fully accessible to visitors. Further announcements will be made in due course.

The Science Museum was able to acquire the Lovelock Archive and objects collections following several months of fundraising.  The museum has received international support for this appeal, including the sale of art by the fashion designer Vivienne Westwood.
“The Science Museum is extremely grateful to everyone who has donated to this project and greatly appreciates their support.  Without their generosity, this important acquisition would not have been possible,” said Ian Blatchford, Director.

Social Media information
Blogs can be read here –
Twitter: #Lovelock


Science Museum Visitor Information
Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London, SW7 2DD.
Summer opening hours
Every day Monday – Sunday till 19.00. / 0870 870 4868
Twitter – @sciencemuseum  Facebook –

For further information or images please contact Science Museum Press Office – or Tel: 0207 942 4364 @LauraSingleton3


Notes to Editors

Science Museum
The Science Museum’s collections form an enduring record of scientific, technological and medical change from the past. Aiming to be the best place in the world for people to enjoy science, the Science Museum makes sense of the science that shapes our lives, sparking curiosity, releasing creativity and changing the future by engaging people of all generations and backgrounds in science, engineering, medicine, technology, design and enterprise.

James Lovelock
James Ephraim Lovelock was born on 26 July 1919 in Letchworth Garden City in the United Kingdom. He graduated as a chemist from Manchester University in 1941 and in 1948 received a Ph.D. degree in medicine from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In 1959 he received the D.Sc. degree in biophysics from London University. After graduating from Manchester he started employment with the Medical Research Council at the National Institute for Medical Research in London.

In l954 he was awarded the Rockefeller Travelling Fellowship in Medicine and chose to spend it at Harvard University Medical School. In 1958 he visited Yale University for a similar period. He resigned from the National Institute for Medical Research in London in 1961 when invited by NASA to work on their lunar and planetary missions. To do this, he accepted full time employment as Professor of Chemistry at Baylor University College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, where he remained until 1964. During his stay in Texas he collaborated with colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California on lunar and planetary research.

Since 1964 he has conducted an independent practice in science, although continuing honorary academic associations as a visiting professor, first at the University of Houston and then at the University of Reading in the U.K. Since 1982 he has been associated with the Marine Biological Association at Plymouth, first as a council member, and from 1986 to 1990 as its president.

James Lovelock is the author of more than 200 scientific papers and has applied for more than 40 patents, mostly for detectors for use in chemical analysis.

One of these, the electron capture detector (ECD), confirmed the ubiquitous distribution of pesticide residues and other halogen bearing chemicals. This information, together with Rachel Carson's seminal book, Silent Spring, is often said to have helped launch the green movement. Later the ECD enabled the discovery of the PCBs in the natural environment. More recently it was responsible for the discovery of the global distribution of nitrous oxide and of the chlorofluorocarbons. Some of his inventions were adopted by NASA in their programme of planetary exploration for this contribution he was awarded three certificates of recognition by NASA.

He is the originator of the Gaia Hypothesis (now Gaia Theory) and has written six books on the subject: Gaia: a new look at life on Earth (Oxford University Press, 1979); The Ages of Gaia (WW Norton, 1988); Gaia: the practical science of planetary medicine (Gaia Books, 1991); an autobiography, Homage to Gaia (Oxford University Press, 2000), The Revenge of Gaia (Allen Lane/Penguin 2006) and The Vanishing Face of Gaia (Allen Lane/Penguin 2009).

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1974 and in 1975 received the Tswett Medal for Chromatography. Earlier he received a CIBA Foundation Prize for research into ageing. In 1980 he received the American Chemical Society's award for chromatography and in 1986 the Silver Medal and Prize of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory. In 1988 he was a recipient of the Norbert Gerbier Prize of the World Meteorological Organization, and in 1990 was awarded the first Amsterdam Prize for the Environment by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1996 he received the Volvo Prize for the Environment and in 1997 the Blue Planet Prize. In 2006, he was awarded the Wollaston Prize by the Geological Society London and the John Collier Prize by the Royal Society of Chemistry that same year. He has received ten Honorary Doctorates from universities around the world. He was made a CBE in 1990 and in 2003, a Companion of Honour by Her Majesty the Queen.

Since 1994 he has been a Senior Research Fellow of Green Templeton College, University of Oxford.