David King (chemist)

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David King

Sir David King - photograph..jpg
King in 2019
David Anthony King

(1939-08-12) 12 August 1939 (age 83)[1]
CitizenshipUnited Kingdom
EducationSt John's College, Johannesburg[1]
Alma materUniversity of the Witwatersrand (BSc; PhD 1963)
Scientific career
ThesisA Study Of The Ammonia Synthesis Over Vanadium Nitride, Correlated With The Structure Of The Catalyst (1963)

Sir David Anthony King FRS FRSC FInstP [2] (born 12 August 1939)[1] is a South African-born British chemist, academic, and head of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group.

King first taught at Imperial College, London, the University of East Anglia, and was then Brunner Professor of Physical Chemistry (1974–1988) at the University of Liverpool. He held the 1920 Chair of Physical Chemistry at the University of Cambridge from 1988 to 2006, and was Master of Downing College, Cambridge, from 1995 to 2000: he is now Emeritus Professor. While at Cambridge, he was successively a fellow of St John's College, Downing College, and Queens' College. Moving to the University of Oxford, he was Director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment from 2008 to 2012, and a Fellow of University College, Oxford, from 2009 to 2012. He was additionally President of Collegio Carlo Alberto in Turin, Italy (2008–2011), and Chancellor of the University of Liverpool (2010–2013).

Outside of academia, King was Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government and Head of the Government Office for Science from 2000 to 2007. He was then senior scientific adviser to UBS, a Swiss investment bank and financial services company, from 2008 to 2013. From 2013 to 2017, he returned to working with the UK Government as Special Representative for Climate Change to the Foreign Secretary. He was also Chairman of the government's Future Cities Catapult from 2013 to 2016.

Early life and education[edit]

King was born on 12 August 1939 in South Africa, son of Arnold Tom Wallis King, of Johannesburg, director of a paint company, and Patricia Mary Bede, née Vardy.[3][4][5] His elder brother, Michael Wallis King (born 1937), was director of the FirstRand bank and vice-chair of the multinational mining company Anglo American plc.[6] King was educated at St John's College, an all-boys private school in Johannesburg. He studied at University of the Witwatersrand, graduating with a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree and then a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in 1963.[7]

Academic career[edit]

After his PhD, King moved to the United Kingdom where he was a Shell Scholar at Imperial College, London, from 1963 to 1966.[7] He was then a lecturer in the School of Chemical Sciences of the University of East Anglia from 1966 to 1974.[7][8] He was appointed Brunner Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Liverpool in 1974. He was a member of the National Executive of the Association of University Teachers from 1970 until 1978, and served as its president for the 1976/77 academic year.[7]

In 1988, King was appointed 1920 Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Cambridge. He subsequently served as Head of the University's Department of Chemistry from 1993 to 2000, and was its director of research from 2005 to 2011. When he first moved to Cambridge in 1988, he was elected a Fellow of St John's College, Cambridge. He moved from St John's when he was elected Master of Downing College, Cambridge, in 1995. He stepped down as Master in 2000, and was then a Fellow of Queens' College, Cambridge, from 2001 to 2008.[7]

From 2008 to 2012, King was Director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford.[1] He was also a Fellow of University College, Oxford, from 2009 to 2012.[7] He was President of Collegio Carlo Alberto in Turin, Italy, from 2008 to 2011,[7][9] and was Chancellor of the University of Liverpool from 2010 to 2013.[7][10]


King has published over 500 papers on his research in chemical physics and on science and policy.[1][11]

During his time at Cambridge, King had, together with Gabor Somorjai and Gerhard Ertl, shaped the discipline of surface science and helped to explain the underlying principles of heterogeneous catalysis. However, the 2007 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Ertl alone.[12]

Career outside academia[edit]

He was the Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government and Head of the Government Office for Science from October 2000 to 31 December 2007, under prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.[13] In that time, he raised the profile of the need for governments to act on climate change and was instrumental in creating the £1 billion Energy Technologies Institute. In 2008 he co-authored The Hot Topic on this subject.[14]

During his tenure as Chief Scientific Adviser, he raised public awareness for climate change and initiated several foresight studies. As director of the government's Foresight Programme, he created an in-depth horizon scanning process which advised government on a wide range of long-term issues, from flooding to obesity.[15][16] He also chaired the government's Global Science and Innovation Forum from its inception. King advised the government on issues including: the foot-and-mouth disease epidemic 2001; post 9/11 risks to the UK; GM foods; energy provision; and innovation and wealth creation. He was heavily involved in the government's Science and Innovation Strategy 2004–2014. He suggested that scientists should honour a Hippocratic Oath for Scientists.[citation needed]

In April 2008, King joined UBS, a Swiss investment bank, as senior science advisor.[7][17] He left UBS to return to the UK government when he was appointed the Foreign Secretary's Special Representative for Climate Change in September 2013.[11][18]

From 2013 to 2016, King was the first chairman of the Future Cities Catapult, a government-funded body conducting research into smart cities.[19][20]

In May 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, King formed and led Independent SAGE, a committee of unpaid experts which acts as a "shadow" of the UK government's SAGE group to address concerns of lack of transparency and political influence on that body.[21]


Climate change[edit]

In his role as scientific advisor to the UK government King was outspoken on the subject of climate change, saying "I see climate change as the greatest challenges facing Britain and the World in the 21st century" [22] and "climate change is the most severe problem we are facing today – more serious even than the threat of terrorism".[23][24]

He strongly supports the work of the IPCC, saying in 2004 that the 2001 synthesis report "is the best current statement on the state of play of the science of climate change, and that really does represent 1,000 scientists".[25]

King criticised the Bush administration for what he saw as its failures in climate change policy, saying it is "failing to take up the challenge of global warming".[26]

In 2004, King predicted that Antarctica is likely to be the world's only habitable continent by the end of this century if global warming remains unchecked.[27]

Food production[edit]

King told The Independent newspaper in February 2007 "he agreed that organic food was no safer than chemically-treated food" and openly supported a study by the Manchester Business School that implicated organic farming practices in unfavourable CO2 comparisons with conventional chemical farming.

In an article published in The Guardian in February 2009, King is quoted as saying that "future historians might look back on our particular recent past and see the Iraq war as the first of the conflicts of this kind – the first of the resource wars" and that this was "certainly the view" (that the invasion was motivated by a desire to secure energy supplies) he held at the time of the invasion, along with "quite a few people in government".[28]


King is a strong supporter of nuclear electricity generation,[29] arguing that it is a safe, technically feasible solution that can help to reduce emissions from the utilities sector now, while the development of alternative low-carbon solutions is incentivised.[30] In the transport sector, King has warned governments that conventional oil resources are more scarce than they believe and that peak oil might approach sooner than expected.[31] Moreover, he has criticised first generation biofuels due to the effect on food prices and subsequent effect on the developing world. He strongly supports second generation biofuels, however, which are manufactured from inedible biomass such as corn stover, wood chips or straw. These biofuels are not made from food sources[32] (see food vs fuel).

King is a member of the Global Apollo Programme and headed its public launch in 2015. The programme calls for multinational research into reducing the cost of low-carbon electricity generation.


King is a Distinguished Supporter of Humanists UK.[33]

Covid response[edit]

In July 2020 King advocated for school closures in the UK until covid cases were reduced to 1 in a million.[34]

Honours and awards[edit]

King was knighted in the 2003 New Year honours.[35] In 2009, he was made a Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur by the French government.[11]

In 1991 he received the BVC Medal and Prize, awarded by the British Vacuum Council.[citation needed] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1991,[36] a Foreign Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002,[11] and a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (FREng) in 2006.[2]

In media[edit]

King appears in the film The Age of Stupid, released in February 2009, talking about Hurricane Katrina. He was portrayed by David Calder in the 2021 BBC television film The Trick.[37]

Personal life[edit]

By his first marriage, which ended in divorce, King has two sons. In 1983 he married secondly charity administrator and former head of a commercial law team[38] Jane Margaret, daughter of general practitioner Hans Eugen Lichtenstein, OBE,[39] of Llandrindod Wells, Powys, Wales, a holocaust survivor from a family that owned leather goods shops and an umbrella factory in Berlin. Jane is nineteen years his junior. They have a son and a daughter.[40][41]

Books published[edit]

  • Sir David King, Gabrielle Walker, The Hot Topic: how to tackle global warming and still keep the lights on, Bloomsbury London 2008 [42]
  • Oliver Inderwildi, Sir David King, Energy, Transport & the Environment, 2012, Springer London New York Heidelberg [43]


  1. ^ a b c d e Anon (2019). "King, Sir David (Anthony)". Who's Who. ukwhoswho.com (online Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.U23112. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ a b "List of Fellows". Royal Academy of Engineering. Archived from the original on 26 March 2016.
  3. ^ People of Today, Debrett's Peerage Ltd, 2006, p. 912
  4. ^ The International Who's Who 1992-3, Europa Publications, 1992, p. 869
  5. ^ Beerman's Financial Year Book of Southern Africa- Investors' Manual and Cyclopaedia of South African Public Companies 1973, Combined Publishers, p. 429
  6. ^ Who's Who of Southern Africa, Argus Printing and Publishing Co., 2003, p. 170
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i "King, Sir David (Anthony), (born 12 Aug. 1939), Director, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, 2008–12; Fellow, University College, Oxford, 2009–12; Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government, and Head, Government Office for Science (formerly Office of Science and Technology, then of Science and Innovation), 2000–07; Executive Chair, Centre for Climate Repair, Cambridge, since 2019". Who's Who 2021. Oxford University Press. 1 December 2020.
  8. ^ King, D.; Wells, M. (1972). "Molecular beam investigation of adsorption kinetics on bulk metal targets: Nitrogen on tungsten". Surface Science. 29 (2): 454–482. Bibcode:1972SurSc..29..454K. doi:10.1016/0039-6028(72)90232-4.
  9. ^ "Collegio Aperto: Sir David King". Collegio Carlo Alberto. 23 October 2009. Retrieved 13 April 2021.
  10. ^ "Home - News - University of Liverpool". liv.ac.uk. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  11. ^ a b c d "Sir David King". GOV.UK. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  12. ^ Highfield, Roger (11 October 2007). "Nobel prize for superficial work" – via telegraph.co.uk.
  13. ^ King, D. A. (2004). "The scientific impact of nations". Nature. 430 (6997): 311–316. Bibcode:2004Natur.430..311K. doi:10.1038/430311a. PMID 15254529.
  14. ^ King, David A.; Gabrielle Walker (February 2008). The Hot Topic. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-0747593959.
  15. ^ King, D. (2007). "Foresight report on obesity". The Lancet. 370 (9601): 1754. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61739-5. PMID 18037076. S2CID 32777266.
  16. ^ King, D. A.; Thomas, S. M. (2007). "Big lessons for a healthy future". Nature. 449 (7164): 791–792. Bibcode:2007Natur.449..791K. doi:10.1038/449791a. PMID 17943108.
  17. ^ Reuters Editorial. "UBS hires former UK chief science adviser". U.K. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  18. ^ "Foreign Secretary's new Special Representative for Climate Change - GOV.UK". gov.uk. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  19. ^ "Multi-million pound future cities catapult to be hosted in London". GOV.UK. Retrieved 9 January 2020.
  20. ^ "Future Cities - Professor Sir David King - People". Archived from the original on 1 November 2014. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  21. ^ Stone, Jon (3 May 2020). "Top scientists set up 'shadow' SAGE committee to advise government amid concerns over political interference". The Independent. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  22. ^ "The Challenge of Climate Change by Sir David King". Archived from the original on 5 August 2004. Retrieved 13 October 2004.
  23. ^ "News". The Telegraph. 15 March 2016. ISSN 0307-1235. Archived from the original on 17 December 2008. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  24. ^ "Global warming 'biggest threat'". 2004. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  25. ^ Commons, The Committee Office, House of. "House of Commons - Environmental Audit - Minutes of Evidence". publications.parliament.uk. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  26. ^ "Global warming 'biggest threat'". 2004. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  27. ^ "Why Antarctica will soon be the only place to live-literally". The Independent. 2 May 2004. Archived from the original on 17 August 2010. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  28. ^ Randerson, James (13 February 2009). "UK's ex-science chief predicts century of 'resource' wars". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  29. ^ "A low carbon nuclear future: Economic assessment of nuclear materials and spent nuclear fuel management in the UK : Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment". Archived from the original on 28 August 2011. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
  30. ^ King, David (16 December 2005). "David King: The nuclear option is scientific necessity". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  31. ^ Owen, N. A.; Inderwildi, O. R.; King, D. A. (2010). "The status of conventional world oil reserves—Hype or cause for concern?". Energy Policy. 38 (8): 4743–4749. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2010.02.026.
  32. ^ Inderwildi, O. R.; King, D. A. (2009). "Quo vadis biofuels?". Energy & Environmental Science. 2 (4): 343. doi:10.1039/b822951c.
  33. ^ "Distinguished supporters of Humanism Richard Norman and Colin Blakemore support H4BW". Humanists UK. Retrieved 22 November 2022.
  34. ^ "Independent SAGE - 14.07.20". YouTube.
  35. ^ "Honours and Awards". London Gazette. 15 August 2003. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  36. ^ "David King". Royal Society. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  37. ^ "The Trick". Radio Times. Retrieved 20 October 2022.
  38. ^ "Jane Lichtenstein:'I wasn't trying to escape'". www.telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 22 November 2022.
  39. ^ "Order of the British Empire, Civil". the Guardian. 14 June 2002. Retrieved 22 November 2022.
  40. ^ People of Today, Debrett's Peerage Ltd, 2006, p. 912
  41. ^ Lichtenstein, Jonathan (2 April 2019). "Hans Lichtenstein obituary". the Guardian. Retrieved 22 November 2022.
  42. ^ King, David; Walker, Gabrielle (2009). The hot topic: how to tackle global warming and still keep the lights on. London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-0-7475-9630-1.
  43. ^ Energy, Transport, & the Environment - Addressing the | Oliver Inderwildi | Springer.
Academic offices
Preceded by Master of Downing College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chancellor of University of Liverpool
Succeeded by
Government offices
Preceded by Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government
Succeeded by
Professional and academic associations
Preceded by President of the British Association for
the Advancement of Science

Succeeded by

Biographical links[edit]