David King (chemist)

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Sir David King

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

(1939-08-12) 12 August 1939 (age 80)[1]
CitizenshipUnited Kingdom
EducationSt John's College, Johannesburg[1]
Alma materUniversity of the Witwatersrand (BSc; PhD 1963)
Scientific career
FieldsPhysical Chemistry
Climate Change
International Development
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 an Emeritus Professor in physical chemistry at the University of Cambridge, previously Director of the Collegio Carlo Alberto, Chancellor of the University of Liverpool[3] and a senior scientific adviser to UBS.[4] He previously served as the Foreign Secretary's Special Representative for Climate Change[5][6] and Chairman of the Future Cities Catapult.[7]


King was born in South Africa in 1939, and educated at St John's College, Johannesburg and the University of the Witwatersrand (BSc, PhD).[1]

Career and research[edit]

After his PhD, King worked at Imperial College London and the University of East Anglia (UEA),[8] becoming the 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 (the academics' trades union) 1970–78, being its president 1976–77. In 1988 he was appointed 1920 Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Cambridge and subsequently became Head of the University Chemistry Department (1993–2000) and was elected Master of Downing College, Cambridge (1995–2000). Although 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, the 2007 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was to be awarded to Ertl alone.[9]


He was the Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and Head of the Government Office for Science from October 2000 to 31 December 2007.[10] In that time, he raised the profile of the need for governments to act on climate change and was instrumental in creating the new £1 billion Energy Technologies Institute. He was knighted in 2003. In 2008 he co-authored The Hot Topic on this subject.[11]

During his tenure as Chief Scientific Adviser he has 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.[12][13] 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; and 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.

Later Career and Research[edit]

King, who in 1991, had been a recipient of the BVC Medal and Prize, awarded by the British Vacuum Council, served from 2008 to 2012, as Director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford.[1]

King has published over 500 papers on his research in chemical physics and on science and policy, and has received numerous prizes, Fellowships and Honorary Degrees. In 2009 King was made a Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur. Until 2012, he continued as a Director of Research in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, where he retains the title of Emeritus Professor.[1]

King was the first chairman of the Future Cities Catapult, launched in 2013 by the UK government to conduct research into smart cities.[14]


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" [15] and "climate change is the most severe problem we are facing today - more serious even than the threat of terrorism".[16][17]

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 [18]

King had 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.[19]

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.[20]

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 on 13 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'.[21]


King is a strong supporter of nuclear electricity generation,[22] 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.[23] 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.[24] 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[25] (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.[26]

World Forum on Enterprise and the Environment[edit]

The first Times/Smith School World Forum on Enterprise and the Environment, a three-day conference in July 2009, was hailed a triumph by King after former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives were amongst many giving rousing speeches. The event was staged to explore ways of reducing the dependence of many of the world's economies on high-carbon fuels and promote low-carbon development in poor countries. More than 200 of the world's leading climate experts attended with many showing that renewable technologies are available and that industry is ready to switch. Both Al Gore and King chastised the governments of rich nations for failing to implement policies to facilitate rapid low-carbon development.

In media[edit]

King appears in the film The Age of Stupid, released in February 2009, talking about Hurricane Katrina.

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 [27]
  • Oliver Inderwildi, Sir David King, Energy, Transport & the Environment, 2012, Springer London New York Heidelberg [28]


  1. ^ a b c d e f 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. ^ "List of Fellows - Royal Academy of Engineering".
  3. ^ "Home - News - University of Liverpool". liv.ac.uk. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  4. ^ Editorial, Reuters. "UBS hires former UK chief science adviser". U.K. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  5. ^ "Sir David King - GOV.UK". gov.uk. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  6. ^ "Foreign Secretary's new Special Representative for Climate Change - GOV.UK". gov.uk. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 1 November 2014. Retrieved 1 November 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  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. doi:10.1016/0039-6028(72)90232-4.
  9. ^ Highfield, Roger (11 October 2007). "Nobel prize for superficial work" – via telegraph.co.uk.
  10. ^ King, D. A. (2004). "The scientific impact of nations". Nature. 430 (6997): 311–316. doi:10.1038/430311a. PMID 15254529.
  11. ^ King, David A.; Gabrielle Walker (February 2008). The Hot Topic. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 0747593957.
  12. ^ King, D. (2007). "Foresight report on obesity". The Lancet. 370 (9601): 1754–1754. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61739-5.
  13. ^ King, D. A.; Thomas, S. M. (2007). "Big lessons for a healthy future". Nature. 449 (7164): 791–792. doi:10.1038/449791a. PMID 17943108.
  14. ^ "Multi-million pound future cities catapult to be hosted in London". GOV.UK. Retrieved 9 January 2020.
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 August 2004. Retrieved 13 October 2004.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  16. ^ "News". The Telegraph. 15 March 2016. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  17. ^ "Global warming 'biggest threat'". 2004. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  18. ^ Commons, The Committee Office, House of. "House of Commons - Environmental Audit - Minutes of Evidence". publications.parliament.uk. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  19. ^ "Global warming 'biggest threat'". 2004. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  20. ^ "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.
  21. ^ Randerson, James (13 February 2009). "UK's ex-science chief predicts century of 'resource' wars". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  22. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 28 August 2011. Retrieved 17 November 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  23. ^ King, David (16 December 2005). "David King: The nuclear option is scientific necessity". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ Inderwildi, O. R.; King, D. A. (2009). "Quo vadis biofuels?". Energy & Environmental Science. 2 (4): 343. doi:10.1039/b822951c.
  26. ^ http://www.humanism.org.uk/about/people/distinguished-supporters Distinguished supporters of the British Humanist Association
  27. ^ King, David; Walker, Gabrielle (2009). The hot topic: how to tackle global warming and still keep the lights on. London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 0-7475-9630-1.
  28. ^ Energy, Transport, & the Environment - Addressing the | Oliver Inderwildi | Springer.
Academic offices
Preceded by
Peter Mathias
Master of Downing College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
Stephen Fleet
Preceded by
Lord Owen
Chancellor of University of Liverpool
Succeeded by
Colm Toibin
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Robert May
Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government
Succeeded by
John Beddington
Professional and academic associations
Preceded by
John Browne
President of the British Association for
the Advancement of Science

Succeeded by
Lord May

Biographical links[edit]