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News > Featured Old Queenians > Featured OQs - Peter Mitchell

Featured OQs - Peter Mitchell

Peter Mitchell (1931-1939) received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1978 for his research in chemiosmotic theory

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Peter Mitchell (1931-1939) received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1978 for his research in chemiosmotic theory.

During his time at Queen’s he impressed as a hardworking and able student with a particular interest in science. As a senior, he won the prestigious Holloway Prize for Science in 1937 when he was only 16.

At school Peter immersedhimself in a range of activities taking full advantage of every opportunity available to him. For example, he was the First Violinist in the school orchestra and an accomplished organist. He also involved himself in acting, playing Lady Macbeth in December 1935 and Leonato in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in his final year, to impressive reviews. He was active in the Debating Society. He loved sport and represented the school in both athletics and rugby. His contribution to the school was recognised in the Wyvern magazine during his final term which stated, ‘he had gained practically every honour he possibly could…’

He was supportive of others and his unselfish character was acknowledged in these words: ‘We have all grown up under his rule and guidance and we are grateful for his patience and never failing interest in everyone’.

In 1939, he was accepted to Jesus College, Cambridge. In 1951, he was awarded his PhD for his work on the mode of action of penicillin. Four years later he moved to Edinburgh University to set up and direct a biological research unit. Ill health forced him to withdraw from scientific research in 1963. From 1965, he pursued his work at laboratories he designed himself at Glynn House, Cornwall. Here his research culminated in chemiosmotic theory for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1978.

His research helped forge the field of bioenergetics (the study of how energy is obtained, transformed and used in living cells). In his Nobel Prize lecture, Peter paid tribute to others, especially David Keilin, from whose work he had benefitted. Equally, many other scientists owe a debt to Peter for developing the understanding of the cell. 

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