Birthday: September 22, 1920
Died At Age: 71
Sun Sign: Virgo
Born in: Mitcham, Surrey, England
Famous as: Biochemist
Spouse/Ex-: Eileen Rollo (m.1944–1954; divorced), Helen Robertson (m. 1958)
father: Christopher Gibbs Mitchell
mother: Kate Beatrice Dorothy
Died on: April 10, 1992
awards: FRS (1974)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1978)
Copley Medal (1981)
Who was Peter Mitchell?
Peter Mitchell was a British chemist who won the 1978 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his discovery of the chemiosmotic mechanism of ATP synthesis. His work in the theoretical approaches in biochemistry which led to the development of his chemiosmotic theory paved the way for the development of the field of bioenergetics. The son of a civil engineer, he started displaying his love for science at a young age. However, as a school student he tended to ignore subjects like history and geography though he excelled in mathematics and physics. He failed the scholarship entrance examination for Cambridge, but ultimately managed to get admitted to Jesus College, Cambridge, on the intervention of his headmaster, Christopher Wiseman. Even in college he did not give a stellar performance though he displayed great potential in biochemistry and thrived under the guidance of his mentor, Frederick Gowland Hopkins. He eventually began his academic career and went on to set up a biochemical research unit, called the Chemical Biology Unit, at the University of Edinburgh. In the 1960s, he embarked on a program of research on chemiosmotic reactions along with his colleagues which eventually earned him the Nobel Prize.
Childhood & Early Life
Peter Dennis Mitchell was born on September 29, 1920, in Mitcham, Surrey, England to Christopher Gibbs Mitchell, a civil servant, and Kate Beatrice Dorothy (née) Taplin.
He received his primary education from local grammar schools and then went to the Queen’s College. He loved science and mathematics from a young age and excelled in these subjects. However, he ignored subjects like history and geography due to which he was unable to get excellent grades.
He appeared for the scholarship entrance examination at Cambridge but was unable to clear it. His headmaster Christopher Wiseman, who recognized Mitchell’s talent and potential, intervened and helped the young man get into Jesus College, Cambridge for the fall of 1939.
He studied physics, chemistry, physiology, and biochemistry for his Tripos I (first two years) and then biochemistry for his Tripos II (third year). He received second-class marks on his examinations but flourished in the Biochemistry Department under the guidance of Frederick Gowland Hopkins.
At Cambridge, he was appointed at a research post in the Department of Biochemistry in 1942 and performed war-related research under the supervision of James Danielli.
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While working towards the completion of his doctorate in 1950, Peter Mitchell was appointed the Demonstrator at the Department of Biochemistry by the new head of the department, Frank Young. Mitchell was awarded a Ph.D. in early 1951 for his work on the mode of action of penicillin.
As a demonstrator, he worked in the Sub-Department of Microbiology. In 1955, he was invited by Professor Michael Swann to set up and direct a biochemical research unit, called the Chemical Biology Unit, in the Department of Zoology, Edinburgh University. Mitchell accepted the offer.
In 1961, he was appointed to a Senior Lectureship at the Edinburgh University and was promoted to a Readership the next year. Around this time, he started suffering from acute gastric ulcers which greatly interfered with his ability to do research. He took a leave of absence and resigned in 1963.
He did not perform any research from 1963 to 1965 but supervised the restoration of a Regency-fronted Mansion, known as Glynn House, at Cornwall. He redesigned a major part of it as a research laboratory and in collaboration with a former colleague, Jennifer Moyle, founded a charitable company known as Glynn Research Ltd. Mitchell became its director of research in 1964.
It was during the 1960s that he began his landmark research on chemiosmotic reactions and reaction systems. Years of intensive work in collaboration with his colleagues led to the discovery of the mechanism of ATP synthesis.
At that time, the biochemical mechanism of ATP synthesis by oxidative phosphorylation was unknown and it was Mitchell who provided the chemiosmotic hypothesis which became the basis for understanding the actual process of oxidative phosphorylation.
His interest in studying the communication between molecules led to an interest in the problems of communication between individual people in civilized societies. On the basis on his own experiences, he deduced that smaller organizations in general are more effective than larger organizations for many purposes. Mitchell retired as director of research from Glynn in 1985.
Peter Mitchell performed vital research in biochemistry and revolutionized the field with his discovery of the chemiosmotic mechanism of ATP synthesis. His chemiosmotic hypothesis provided the basis for understanding the actual process of oxidative phosphorylation.
Awards & Achievements
He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1978 "for his contribution to the understanding of biological energy transfer through the formulation of the chemiosmotic theory.
In 1981, Mitchell was honored with the Copley medal "In recognition of his distinguished contribution to biology in his formulation and development of the chemiosmotic theory of energy transduction."
Personal Life & Legacy
Peter Mitchell’s first marriage was to Eileen Rollo in 1944. They couple had one daughter. The marriage, however, began to unravel within years and ended in divorce in 1954.
His second wife was Helen Robertson whom he wed in 1958.
He suffered from deafness and complications from a botched up surgery during his later years and died on 10 April 1992, at the age of 71.