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Research paper topic: Peter Mitchell 1920 1992 : Chemiosmotic Hypothesis - 1149 words
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.. ochrome oxidase involved some fairly heated debates before it finally went to Mrten Wikstrm; and it looks as if the mechanism of ATP synthesis through the F1.F0 ATP-ase is more along the lines envisaged by Paul Boyer than through Peter's earlier proposals. In both these cases, with the benefit of hindsight it looks as if Peter underrated the role of the protein and the subtlety of evolution in designing molecular mechanism. It was part of Peter's charm that, no matter how strongly he held his views, his stance was based on sound principles and experimental results, was always well argued, fair, and devoid of malice. When convinced, he conceded graciously; if his own views prevailed, he was happy to recognize the contributions of his opponents, and his unfailing habit of giving credit where credit was due allowed for an easy reconciliation. Peter's contributions have been formally recognized through the many honors, prizes and degrees conferred on him over the years.
He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences, Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge (his alma mater), a Foreign Associate of the Acadmie des Sciences Francaise, and an Honorary member of the Society of General Microbiology, and the Japanese Biochemical Society. He received honorary doctorates from the Technical University, Berlin, the Universities of Exeter, Chicago, Liverpool, Bristol, Edinburgh, Hull, East Anglia, Cambridge and York. Among other honors and prizes awarded were the CIBA Medal and Prize of the Biochemical Society in 1973, the Warren Triennial Prize (jointly) from the Trustees of the Massachusetts General Hospital in 1974, the Freedman Foundation award of the New York Academy of Sciences in 1974, the Feldberg Foundation Prize in 1976, the Rosenberg Award of Brandeis University in 1977, the Lipmann Lecturer, Gessellschaft fr Biologische Chemie, 1977, the Medal of the Federation of European Biochemical Societies in 1978, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry in 1978, the Copley Medal of the Royal Society in 1981, and the Medal of Honor of the Athens Municipal Council in 1982. The dry facts of Peter Mitchell's life do him scant justice, and although he was at ease with his fame, I am sure he would not wish to be remembered simply in terms of the many prizes and honorary degrees heaped on him. Peter listed among his leisure interests (and here I quote from the International Who's Who), family life, home building, the creation of wealth and amenity, the restoration of buildings of architectural and historical interest, music, thinking, understanding, inventing, making, sailing.
I can picture him filling out the questionnaire which elicited this list. There would have been a wry amusement in the task of defining himself, and a certain self-deprecation, but Peter would have tackled the job with characteristic honesty, diligence and intelligence. Glynn House and Glynn Research Ltd. (later the Glynn Research Foundation), were the happy outcome of a spell in hospital in the early 1960's. On the recommendation of his doctor, Peter was looking for a vacation home in the South where he could recuperate.
The estate agent showed him the burnt-out shell of a country mansion, and Peter, more in jest than earnest, said he would give x,000 for the lot. He was surprised when, a few weeks later, the man called him in Edinburgh and said It's yours. Using his private resources, Peter had the building remodelled, with the west wing as a residence, and the east wing and adjoining areas as research laboratories, library, seminar room, workshop, etc., to accommodate a small research group. Over the years, Peter and Helen welcomed many friends and colleagues to the now beautifully restored Glynn House, and were unfailingly gracious and hospitable. Friendships were important to Peter.
He enjoyed conversation, and treated topics both high and low with a mixture of deep seriousness and impish humor. Discussions were a test bed for his latest ideas, and he relished the pursuit of odd angles and new perspectives. He held the view that science progresses though open discussion, and abhorred the notion that ideas or information should be closeted away, hidden from the competition. Peter's approach to science was based on philosophical principles; he was interested not only in the science, but in the mechanism of scientific discovery. He was fascinated by the nature of creativity, the practice of science as a social system, the validation of scientific truth,- indeed, the whole process of science in action. He was much affected by Popper and his ideas about the scientific method, and Popper's influence can be seen in Peter's insistence that hypotheses should be framed in the context of experimental tests. He regarded experimental results as of prime importance, and was as much interested in the intriguing observation as in the author's interpretation.
He believed strongly that science advances through the contributions of individuals, and that each individual is responsible for selection or discrimination with regard to any piece of information. He thought that much of the effectiveness of a successful scientist lay in the adequacy of this filtration process. This view was captured in a nice remark he once made to me, that The trouble with most scientists is not that they don't have good memories, but that they don't have good forgeteries. Although in private he was not reluctant to criticize, he was generous and helpful in his more public interactions, and treated with respect the opinions of others, especially younger research workers coming into the field. In the wider context of his social and political views, Hayek was an early influence, and Peter would emphasize the role of the individual, and freedom of economic and political expression. Much of his thinking in the last 15 years was directed towards human and social problems, especially towards identifying mechanisms for conflict resolution.
In this context, he saw the bioenergetics community as a microcosm and a vehicle for experiment, and the Round Table Discussion meeting he organized at Glynn, was at least partly motivated by this interest. Although he had little time for socialism, he was a very human person, aware of his own foibles and vanities, and found through this a sympathy with the common human lot. His belief in the individual was tempered by a recognition that in a rational order, rights are earned and exercised in the context of the responsibilities each owes to society. He held to a set of standards, those of the gentleman, which many would see as archaic, and these and his talents raised him above the fray. His inspiration, humor, friendship, and the high standards of scholarship and behavior he brought to our field will be sorely missed. Obituary, Photosynthesis Research, Antony Crofts, June 29th.
1992 Mitchell, P. (1961) Nature (London) 191, 144-148. Mitchell, P. (1966) Chemiosmotic Coupling in Oxidative and Photosynthetic Phosphorylation, Glynn Research, Bodmin. Mitchell, P.
(1968) Chemiosmotic Coupling and Energy Transduction, Glynn Research, Bodmin. Greville, G. (1969) Curr. Top. Bioenerg. 3, 1-78.
Mitchell, P. (1976) J. Theor. Biol., 62, 327-367.
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