Peter Atkins

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Peter William Atkins
Peter William Atkins (the chemist) cropped.jpg
Born (1940-08-10) 10 August 1940 (age 81)
Amersham, Buckinghamshire, England
Alma materUniversity of Leicester
Known forAcademic level chemistry text books
Judith Kearton
(m. 1964; div. 1983)
(m. 1991; div. 2005)
Patricia-Jean Nobes
(m. 2008)
AwardsRSC Meldola Medal
Scientific career
FieldsPhysical chemistry
Doctoral advisorMCR Symons
Doctoral students

Peter William Atkins FRSC (born 10 August 1940) is an English chemist and a Fellow of Lincoln College at the University of Oxford. He retired in 2007. He is a prolific writer of popular chemistry textbooks, including Physical Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, and Molecular Quantum Mechanics. Atkins is also the author of a number of popular science books, including Atkins' Molecules, Galileo's Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science and On Being.


Atkins left school (Dr Challoner's Grammar School, Amersham) at fifteen and took a job at Monsanto as a laboratory assistant. He studied for A-levels by himself and gained a place, following a last-minute interview, at the University of Leicester.

Atkins studied chemistry there, obtaining a BSc degree in chemistry, and a PhD degree in 1964 for research into electron spin resonance spectroscopy, and other aspects of theoretical chemistry. Atkins then took a postdoctoral position at UCLA as a Harkness Fellow of the Commonwealth fund.[1] He returned to Britain in 1965 as a fellow and tutor of Lincoln College, Oxford, and lecturer in physical chemistry (later, professor of physical chemistry). In 1969, he won the Royal Society of Chemistry's Meldola Medal. In 1996 he was awarded the Title of Distinction of Professor of Chemistry. He retired in 2007, and since then has been a full-time author.[2]

He has honorary doctorates from the University of Utrecht, the University of Leicester (where he sits on the university Court), Mendeleev University in Moscow, and Kazan State Technological University.

He was a member of the Council of the Royal Institution and the Royal Society of Chemistry. He was the founding chairman of IUPAC Committee on Chemistry Education, and is a trustee of a variety of charities.

Atkins has lectured in quantum mechanics, quantum chemistry, and thermodynamics courses (up to graduate level) at the University of Oxford. He is a patron of the Oxford University Scientific Society.

In 2016 Atkins received the James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public from the American Chemical Society.[3]

Views on religion[edit]

Atkins is a well-known atheist.[4] He has written and spoken on issues of humanism, atheism, and the incompatibility of science and religion. According to Atkins, whereas religion scorns the power of human comprehension, science respects it.[5]

He was the first Senior Member of the Oxford University Secular Society, a Distinguished Supporter of Humanists UK (formerly known as the British Humanist Association) and an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society.[6] He is also a member of the Advisory Board of The Reason Project, a US-based charitable foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. The organisation is led by fellow atheist and author Sam Harris. Atkins has regularly participated in debates with theists including Alister McGrath, Stephen C. Meyer, Dr. Hugh Ross,[7] William Lane Craig,[8][9] Rabbi Shmuley Boteach,[10] and Richard Swinburne.

In December 2006, Atkins was featured in a UK television documentary on atheism called The Trouble with Atheism, presented by Rod Liddle. In that documentary Liddle asked Atkins: "Give me your views on the existence, or otherwise, of God". Atkins replied: "Well it's fairly straightforward: there isn't one. And there's no evidence for one, no reason to believe that there is one, and so I don't believe that there is one. And I think that it is rather foolish that people do think that there is one".[11]

Atkins is known for his use of astringent language in criticising religion: he appeared in the 2008 documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, in which he told interviewer Ben Stein that religion was "a fantasy", and "completely empty of any explanatory content. It is also evil".[12] He appeared on a television panel about science and religion with Richard Dawkins and Richard Swinburne. When the latter tried to explain the Holocaust as God's way of giving Jews the opportunity to be brave and noble, Atkins growled: "May you rot in hell".[13]

In 2007, Atkins's position on religion was described by Colin Tudge in an article in The Guardian as being non-scientific. In the same article, Atkins was also described as being 'more hardline than Richard Dawkins', and of deliberately choosing to ignore Peter Medawar's famous adage that "Science is the art of the soluble".[14]

Personal life[edit]

Atkins married Judith Kearton in 1964 and they had one daughter, Juliet (born 1970). They divorced in 1983. In 1991, he married fellow scientist Susan Greenfield (later Baroness Greenfield). They divorced in 2005. In 2008, he married Patricia-Jean Nobes (née Brand).


General readers[edit]

  • The Creation. W. H. Freeman & Co Ltd. 1981. ISBN 0-7167-1350-0.
  • The Second Law. Scientific American Books, an imprint of W. H. Freeman and Company. 1984. ISBN 0-7167-5004-X
  • Creation Revisited. W. H. Freeman & Co Ltd. 1993. ISBN 0-7167-4500-3.
  • Second Law: Energy, Chaos, and Form. W. H. Freeman & Co Ltd. 1994. ISBN 0-7167-5005-8.
  • The Periodic Kingdom: A journey into the land of the chemical elements. BasicBooks. 1995. ISBN 0-465-07266-6.
  • Atkins' Molecules. Cambridge University Press. 2003. ISBN 0-521-53536-0.
  • Galileo's Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science. Oxford University Press. 2003. ISBN 0-19-860941-8.
  • Four Laws That Drive the Universe. Oxford University Press. 2007. ISBN 978-0-19-923236-9.
  • The Laws of Thermodynamics: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. 2010. ISBN 978-0-19-957219-9.
  • On Being: A Scientist's Exploration of the Great Questions of Existence. Oxford University Press. 2011. ISBN 978-0-19-960336-7.
  • Reactions: The private life of atoms. Oxford University Press. 2011. ISBN 978-0-19-969512-6.
  • What is Chemistry?. Oxford University Press. 2013. ISBN 978-0-19-968398-7.[15]
  • Physical Chemistry: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. 2014. ISBN 978-0-19-968909-5.
  • Chemistry: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. 2015. ISBN 978-0-19-968397-0.
  • Conjuring the Universe: The Origins of the Laws of Nature. Oxford University Press. 2018.[16]

University textbooks[edit]

Media appearances[edit]


  1. ^ "Van 't Hoff Centennial Symposium". Archived from the original on 5 October 2008. Retrieved 17 August 2008.
  2. ^ "Beyond Belief: Enlightenment 2 – Peter Atkins". The Science Network. Retrieved 20 January 2011.
  3. ^ "English chemist Peter Atkins wins Grady-Stack award for science journalism".
  4. ^ "Video of March 2007 debate with Alister McGrath". 11 February 2009. Archived from the original on 4 September 2011. Retrieved 27 August 2011.
  5. ^ Atkins, Peter. "Who Really Works Hardest to Banish Ignorance?". Council for Secular Humanism. Retrieved 22 March 2008.
  6. ^ "National Secular Society Honorary Associates". National Secular Society. Retrieved 31 July 2019.
  7. ^ Hugh Ross vs Peter Atkins • Debating the origins of the laws of nature on YouTube
  8. ^ First Debate With William Lane Craig on YouTube
  9. ^ Second Debate With William Lane Craig on YouTube
  10. ^ "Rabbi Shmuley Boteach". Archived from the original on 26 April 2008.
  11. ^ "The Trouble with Atheism". UK Channel 4 TV Documentary. 18 December 2006.
  12. ^ 'Expelled' documentary explores Darwin, Intelligent Design, religion debate Archived 13 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 27 August 2011.
  13. ^ Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God Delusion. Bantam Books. p. 64. ISBN 0-618-68000-4.
  14. ^ Tudge, Colin (8 December 2007). "The art of the soluble". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  15. ^ The Italian translation, Che cosa è la chimica? Un viaggio nel cuore della materia, won the Asimov Prize for 2016.
  16. ^ Frazier, Kendrick (2018). "New and Notable". Skeptical Inquirer. Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. 42 (4): 60.


External links[edit]