Peter Atkins

Peter Atkins

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Peter William Atkins is a British chemist
Chemist
A chemist is a scientist trained in the study of chemistry. Chemists study the composition of matter and its properties such as density and acidity. Chemists carefully describe the properties they study in terms of quantities, with detail on the level of molecules and their component atoms...

 and former Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Lincoln College
Lincoln College, Oxford
Lincoln College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. It is situated on Turl Street in central Oxford, backing onto Brasenose College and adjacent to Exeter College...

. He is a prolific writer of popular chemistry textbook
Textbook
A textbook or coursebook is a manual of instruction in any branch of study. Textbooks are produced according to the demands of educational institutions...

s, including Physical Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, and Molecular Quantum Mechanics. Atkins is also the author of a number of science books for the general public, including Atkins' Molecules and Galileo's Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science.

Career


Atkins left school (Dr Challoner's Grammar School
Dr Challoner's Grammar School
Dr Challoner's Grammar School, often abbreviated to DCGS, is an Academy Grammar School of approximately 1,300 boys located in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, England....

, Amersham) at fifteen and took a job with Monsanto as a laboratory assistant. He studied for A-levels by himself and gained a place, following a last-minute interview, at University of Leicester
University of Leicester
The University of Leicester is a research-led university based in Leicester, England. The main campus is a mile south of the city centre, adjacent to Victoria Park and Wyggeston and Queen Elizabeth I College....

.

Atkins studied chemistry there, obtaining a bachelor's degree in chemistry, and – in 1964 – a PhD for research into electron spin resonance
Electron paramagnetic resonance
Electron paramagnetic resonance or electron spin resonance spectroscopyis a technique for studying chemical species that have one or more unpaired electrons, such as organic and inorganic free radicals or inorganic complexes possessing a transition metal ion...

 spectroscopy, and other aspects of theoretical chemistry. Atkins then took a postdoctoral position at the UCLA
University of California, Los Angeles
The University of California, Los Angeles is a public research university located in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, USA. It was founded in 1919 as the "Southern Branch" of the University of California and is the second oldest of the ten campuses...

 as a Harkness Fellow of the Commonwealth fund. He returned to Oxford in 1965 as fellow and tutor of Lincoln College, and lecturer in physical chemistry (later, professor of physical chemistry). In 1969, he won the Royal Society of Chemistry
Royal Society of Chemistry
The Royal Society of Chemistry is a learned society in the United Kingdom with the goal of "advancing the chemical sciences." It was formed in 1980 from the merger of the Chemical Society, the Royal Institute of Chemistry, the Faraday Society and the Society for Analytical Chemistry with a new...

's Meldola Medal. He retired in 2007, and since then has been a full-time author .

He has honorary doctorates from the University of Utrecht, the University of Leicester
University of Leicester
The University of Leicester is a research-led university based in Leicester, England. The main campus is a mile south of the city centre, adjacent to Victoria Park and Wyggeston and Queen Elizabeth I College....

 (where he sits on the university Court), Mendeleev University in Moscow, and Kazan State Technological University
Kazan State Technological University
Kazan National Research Technological University, KNRTU is an innovational scientific educational complex. The University comprises 15 academic and research institutes; runs over 100 Specialist, Bachelor’s, Master’s Degree and Ph.D. programs; enrolls over 27 thousand undergraduate and graduate...

.

He was a member of the Council of the Royal Institution
Royal Institution
The Royal Institution of Great Britain is an organization devoted to scientific education and research, based in London.-Overview:...

 and the Royal Society of Chemistry
Royal Society of Chemistry
The Royal Society of Chemistry is a learned society in the United Kingdom with the goal of "advancing the chemical sciences." It was formed in 1980 from the merger of the Chemical Society, the Royal Institute of Chemistry, the Faraday Society and the Society for Analytical Chemistry with a new...

. 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 mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

, quantum chemistry
Quantum chemistry
Quantum chemistry is a branch of chemistry whose primary focus is the application of quantum mechanics in physical models and experiments of chemical systems...

, and thermodynamics
Thermodynamics
Thermodynamics is a physical science that studies the effects on material bodies, and on radiation in regions of space, of transfer of heat and of work done on or by the bodies or radiation...

 courses (up to graduate level) at the University of Oxford. He is a patron of the Oxford University Scientific Society
Oxford University Scientific Society
The Oxford University Scientific Society is a student scientific society at the University of Oxford. It was founded in 1882 as the Oxford University Junior Scientific Club. It is one of the oldest undergraduate science societies in the world. It organizes talks on scientific subjects on a weekly...

.

Private life


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).

Religion


Atkins is a well-known atheist
Atheism
Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities...

. He has written and spoken on issues of humanism
Humanism
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....

, atheism, and the incompatibility of science and religion. According to Atkins, whereas religion scorns the power of human comprehension, science respects it.

He was the first Senior Member of the Oxford University Secular Society and is an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society
National Secular Society
The National Secular Society is a British campaigning organisation that promotes secularism and the separation of church and state. It holds that no-one should gain advantage or disadvantage because of their religion or lack of religion. It was founded by Charles Bradlaugh in 1866...

. He is also a member of the Advisory Board of The Reason Project
The Reason Project
Project Reason is a U.S. 501 foundation whose main aim is the promotion of scientific knowledge and secular values within society.-History:In 2007, Sam Harris and his wife, Annaka Harris, founded Project Reason...

, 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
Sam Harris (author)
Sam Harris is an American author, and neuroscientist, as well as the co-founder and current CEO of Project Reason. He received a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Stanford University, before receiving a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA...

. Atkins has regularly participated in debates with theists such as Alister McGrath
Alister McGrath
Alister Edgar McGrath is an Anglican priest, theologian, and Christian apologist, currently Professor of Theology, Ministry, and Education at Kings College London and Head of the Centre for Theology, Religion and Culture...

, William Lane Craig
William Lane Craig
William Lane Craig is an American analytic philosopher, philosophical theologian, and Christian apologist. He is known for his work on the philosophy of time and the philosophy of religion, specifically the existence of God and the defense of Christian theism...

, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, and Richard Swinburne
Richard Swinburne
Richard G. Swinburne is an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford. Over the last 50 years Swinburne has been a very influential proponent of philosophical arguments for the existence of God. His philosophical contributions are primarily in philosophy of religion and...

.

In December 2006, Atkins was featured in a UK television documentary on atheism called The Trouble with Atheism
The Trouble with Atheism
The Trouble with Atheism is an hour-long documentary on atheism, presented by Rod Liddle. It aired on Channel 4 in December 2006. The documentary focuses on criticising atheism for its perceived similarities to religion, as well as arrogance and intolerance...

, presented by Rod Liddle
Rod Liddle
Roderick E. L. Liddle is an English print, radio, and television journalist.He is an associate editor of The Spectator, and former editor of BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he is the author of Too Beautiful for You , Love Will Destroy Everything , and co-author of The Best of Liddle Britain...

. In that documentary Liddle asked Atkins to "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."

Atkins is known for his use of astringent language in criticising religion: he appeared in the controversial 2008 documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is a 2008 documentary film, directed by Nathan Frankowski and hosted by Ben Stein. The film contends that the mainstream science establishment suppresses academics who believe they see evidence of intelligent design in nature and who criticize evidence supporting...

, in which he told interviewer Ben Stein
Ben Stein
Benjamin Jeremy "Ben" Stein is an American actor, writer, lawyer, and commentator on political and economic issues. He attained early success as a speechwriter for American presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford...

 that religion was "a fantasy", and "completely empty of any explanatory content. It is also evil." He appeared on a television panel about science and religion with Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins
Clinton Richard Dawkins, FRS, FRSL , known as Richard Dawkins, is a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author...

 and Richard Swinburne
Richard Swinburne
Richard G. Swinburne is an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford. Over the last 50 years Swinburne has been a very influential proponent of philosophical arguments for the existence of God. His philosophical contributions are primarily in philosophy of religion and...

. When the latter tried to explain Holocaust as a God's way of giving Jews the opportunity to be brave and noble, Atkins growled: "May you rot in hell".

In 2007, Atkins's position on religion was described by Colin Tudge in an article in The Guardian
The Guardian
The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...

 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
Peter Medawar
Sir Peter Brian Medawar OM CBE FRS was a British biologist, whose work on graft rejection and the discovery of acquired immune tolerance was fundamental to the practice of tissue and organ transplants...

's famous adage that "Science is the art of the soluble".

General readers

  • The Second Law. New York: W. H. Freeman. 1987.
  • The Periodic Kingdom: A journey into the land of the chemical elements. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 1995

Sources

  • Who's Who in the World, 21st edition.
  • Debrett's People of Today. Debrett's Peerage Ltd., 2006.
  • Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2006.

External links