David Chilton Phillips

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The Right Honourable

The Lord Phillips of Ellesmere

David Chilton Phillips.jpg
David Chilton Phillips

(1924-03-07)7 March 1924
Died23 February 1999(1999-02-23) (aged 74)
Known forDetermination of the structure and catalytic mechanism of lysozyme. Contributions to the techniques of X-ray crystallography. Public service in science and government.
Scientific career
Institutions 1966-90
Doctoral students
Other notable studentsJanet Thornton (postdoc)[14][15]

David Chilton Phillips, Baron Phillips of Ellesmere, KBE, FRS (7 March 1924 – 23 February 1999)[1] was a pioneering, British structural biologist and an influential figure in science and government.


Phillips lead the team which determined in atomic detail the structure of the enzyme lysozyme, which he did in the Davy Faraday Research Laboratories of the Royal Institution in London in 1965. Lysozyme, which was discovered in 1922 by Alexander Fleming,[16] is found in tear drops, nasal mucus, gastric secretions and egg white. Lysozyme exhibits some antibacterial activity so that the discovery of its structure and mode of action were key scientific objectives. David Phillips solved the structure of lysozyme and also explained the mechanism of its action in destroying certain bacteria by a brilliant application of the technique of X-ray crystallography, a technique to which he had been introduced as a PhD student at the University in Cardiff, and to which he later made major instrumental contributions.

Education and career[edit]

David was the son of Charles Harry Phillips, a master tailor and Methodist preacher, and his wife, Edith Harriet Finney, a midwife.[17] His mother's father was Samuel Finney, a coal miner, union official and Member of Parliament.[1]

He was born in Ellesmere, Shropshire which gave rise to his title Baron Phillips of Ellesmere. He was educated at Oswestry High School for Boys and then at the University College of South Wales and Monmouth where he studied physics, electrical engineering, and mathematics. His degree was interrupted between 1944 and 1947 for service in the Royal Navy as a radar officer on HMS Illustrious. He returned to Cardiff to complete his degree (BSc in 1948) and then undertook postgraduate studies with Arthur Wilson (crystallographer). He gained his doctorate (PhD) in 1951. After a postdoctoral period at the National Research Council in Ottawa (1951–55) he joined the Royal Institution. In 1966 he became the Professor of Molecular Biophysics in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford where he remained until his retirement in 1990. During that time he became a Fellow of the Royal Society and then its Biological Secretary from 1976 to 1983.


In 1960 he married Diana Hutchinson.

Honours and awards[edit]

Phillips was made a Knight Bachelor in the 1979 Birthday Honours,[5] invested as Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in the 1989 New Year Honours,[8] and created a Life Peer as Baron Phillips of Ellesmere, of Ellesmere in the County of Shropshire on 14 July 1994.[18] In the House of Lords, he chaired the select committee on Science and Technology and he is credited with getting Parliament onto the World Wide Web. In 1994, he was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Science) by the University of Bath.[19]

In 1980 he was invited to deliver a series of Royal Institution Christmas Lecture on The Chicken, the Egg and the Molecules.[20]


Lord Phillips died of cancer, on 23 February 1999.


  1. ^ a b c Johnson, L. N. (2000). "David Chilton Phillips, Lord Phillips of Ellesmere, K.B.E. 7 March 1924 -- 23 February 1999: Elected F.R.S. 1967". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 46: 377–401. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1999.0092.
  2. ^ "Prizewinners of the Feldberg Foundation". Feldberg Foundation. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  3. ^ "Recipients of The Portland Press Excellence in Science Award". Biochemical Society. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  4. ^ "Royal Society Royal Medal Winners". Royal Society. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  5. ^ a b "No. 48072". The London Gazette. 18 January 1980. p. 900.
  6. ^ "National Academy of Sciences Member Directory: David Phillips of Ellesmere".
  7. ^ "Wolf Foundation: Sir David C. Phillips". 9 December 2018.
  8. ^ a b "No. 51578". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 1988. p. 7.
  9. ^ "Gregori Aminoff Prize - Crystallography - Royal Swedish Academy of Scien". The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  10. ^ "Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh". Royal Society of Edinburgh. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  11. ^ "President's Medal Winners, Royal Academy of Engineering". Royal Academy of Engineering. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  12. ^ Jones, Edith Yvonne (1985). Structural and dynamic studies on biological macromolecules (DPhil thesis). University of Oxford. OCLC 863529476.
  13. ^ Sternberg, Michael Joseph Ezra (1977). Studies of protein conformation (DPhil thesis). University of Oxford.
  14. ^ Phillips, D. C.; Sternberg, M. J.; Thornton, J. M.; Wilson, I. A. (1978). "An analysis of the structure of triose phosphate isomerase and its comparison with lactate dehydrogenase". Journal of Molecular Biology. 119 (2): 329–51. doi:10.1016/0022-2836(78)90440-0. PMID 633372.
  15. ^ Phillips, D. C.; Rivers, P. S.; Sternberg, M. J.; Thornton, J. M.; Wilson, I. A. (1977). "An analysis of the three-dimensional structure of chicken triose phosphate isomerase". Biochemical Society Transactions. 5 (3): 642–7. doi:10.1042/bst0050642. PMID 902882.
  16. ^ Fleming, A. (1922). "On a Remarkable Bacteriolytic Element Found in Tissues and Secretions". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 93 (653): 306–317. Bibcode:1922RSPSB..93..306F. doi:10.1098/rspb.1922.0023.
  17. ^ Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0-902-198-84-X.
  18. ^ "No. 53739". The London Gazette. 20 July 1994. p. 10337.
  19. ^ "Honorary Graduates 1989 to present". University of Bath. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
  20. ^ "The chicken, the egg and the molecules". The Royal Institution.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by Fullerian Professor of Physiology
Succeeded by