Science at Trinity

Trinity has a long and distinguished history in scientific research. Over the course of the twentieth century, Fellows were awarded innumerable prizes, including three prestigious Nobel Prizes.

Sir Cyril Hinshelwood, OM, PRS (1897-1967) was a distinguished Physical Chemist.  On his appointment as a Tutorial Fellow in 1920, he undertook his research in the laboratory at Trinity, which had been converted from a late eighteenth-century lavatory block, before moving, in 1929, to the University’s new Physical Chemistry laboratory.   His research focused on the kinetics and mechanisms of chemical reactions (including those occurring in biological systems).   In 1937 he was appointed Dr Lee’s Professor of Chemistry, one of Oxford’s statutory chairs.

In 1956, Hinshelwood shared a Nobel Prize in chemistry with N N Semyonov for their research into the mechanism of chemical reactions.

Sir Hans Krebs, FRS (1900-1981) was appointed the Whitley Professor of Biochemistry and Fellow of Trinity College in 1954. He is best known for his identification of two chemical reactions in the body, namely the urea cycle and the citric acid cycle.   The latter, the key sequence of metabolic reactions that produces energy in cells, known as the ‘Krebs cycle’, earned him, in 1953, a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, jointly with Fritz Lippman.

Rodney Porter, CH, FRS (1917-1985) succeeded Sir Hans Krebs in 1967, when he was appointed the Whitley Professor of Biochemistry and Fellow of Trinity.   In 1972 he shared the Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine with Gerald Edelman, for determining the chemical structure of an antibody.

In addition to these Nobel Laureates, Henry Moseley (1887-1915) is often spoken of as a potential Laureate for his development of Moseley’s law in X-ray spectra.   Moseley died at Gallipoli in 1915, making him ineligible for the Nobel Prize, which is not awarded posthumously.   In 1962, Niels Bohr, another Laureate, said, ‘You see actually the Rutherford work [the nuclear atom] was not taken seriously. We cannot understand today, but it was not taken seriously at all. There was no mention of it [in] any place. The great change came from Moseley.’

Two Professorial Fellows of the college, Kim Nasmyth, Whitley Professor of Biochemistry since 2006, and Dame Frances Ashcroft, Professor of Physiology, Emeritus Fellow Professor George Smith (Materials Science), and Honorary Fellows Sir John Rowlinson (Chemistry)  and Sir Edwin Southern (Biochemistry) are all Fellows of the Royal Society, in recognition of their individual contributions to scientific research.

Henry Moseley

For further reading about Henry Moseley's life and contribution to science see John Heilbron's biography 'H. G. J. Moseley: The Life and Letters of an English Physicist, 1887–1915'.

A PBS programme about Henry Moseley's discovery, including contributions by Trinity's Professor Russ Egdell and Professor Justin Wark, is available on YouTube (the section on Moseley runs for approximately 25 minutes).

A five-minute animation produced by the Museum of the History of Science explaining Moseley’s ground-breaking experiment is also available on YouTube.