David Chilton Phillips

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Phillips of Ellesmere
Born David Chilton Phillips
(1924-03-07)7 March 1924
Died 23 February 1999(1999-02-23) (aged 74)
Doctoral students
Other notable students Janet Thornton (postdoc)[3][4]
Known for Discovering structure of lysozyme
Notable awards

David Chilton Phillips, Baron Phillips of Ellesmere, KBE, FRS (7 March 1924 – 23 February 1999)[5] was a pioneering structural biologist and an influential figure in science and government.


Phillips was the first person to determine 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,[6] 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 Chilton Phillips, the son of a tailor and Methodist preacher, was born in Ellesmere, Shropshire which gave rise to his title Baron Phillips of Ellesmere. He was educated at Oswestry Boy's High School 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 and subsequently undertook postgraduate studies with Professor Arthur J. C. Wilson, a noted X-ray crystal physicist. After a brief postdoctoral period at the National Research Council in Ottawa (1951–55) he joined the Royal Institution. In 1968 he became the Professor of Molecular Biophysics in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford where he remained until his retirement in 1985. During that time he became a Fellow of the Royal Society and then its Biological Secretary from 1976 to 1983.

Honours and awards[edit]

David was made a Knight Bachelor in 1979,[7] invested as Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in 1989,[8] and created a Life Peer as Baron Phillips of Ellesmere, of Ellesmere in the County of Shropshire on 14 July 1994.[9] 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.[10]

In 1980 he was invited to deliver a series of Royal Institution Christmas Lecture on The Chicken, the Egg and the Molecules, this was followed a second series of lectures on Crystals and Lasers in 1988.[11]


Lord Phillips died of cancer, on 23 February 1999.


  1. ^ Jones, Edith Yvonne (1985). Structural and dynamic studies on biological macromolecules. bodleian.ox.ac.uk (DPhil thesis). University of Oxford. OCLC 863529476. 
  2. ^ Sternberg, Michael Joseph Ezra (1977). Studies of protein conformation (DPhil thesis). University of Oxford. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ a b 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. 
  6. ^ 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. doi:10.1098/rspb.1922.0023. 
  7. ^ "No. 48072". The London Gazette. 18 January 1980. p. 900. 
  8. ^ "No. 51578". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 DEcember 1988. p. 7.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  9. ^ "No. 53739". The London Gazette. 20 July 1994. p. 10337. 
  10. ^ "Honorary Graduates 1989 to present". bath.ac.uk. University of Bath. Retrieved 18 February 2012. 
  11. ^ http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2156462/?ref_=tt_cl_t1
Academic offices
Preceded by
Max Ferdinand Perutz
Fullerian Professor of Physiology
Succeeded by
John Bertrand Gurdon