His father was a GP. He was educated at Bedford School and Cambridge University. Working first in the Physical Chemistry Laboratory, he moved to the Dunn Nutritional Laboratory, and in 1938 moved to Wool Industries Research Institution in Leeds. He was head of the Biochemistry Division of Boots Pure Drug Company from 1946 to 1948, when he joined the Medical Research Council. There, he was appointed Head of the Physical Chemistry Division of the National Institute for Medical Research in 1952 and was Chemical Consultant from 1956 to 1959.
He specialised in Biochemistry, in some aspects of Vitamins E and B2, and in techniques that laid the foundation for chromatography. He developed partition chromatography whilst working on the separation of amino acids, and later developed gas-liquid chromatography. Amongst many other honours, he received his Nobel Prize in 1952.
He was married, with two sons and three daughters. In the last years of his life he suffered from Alzheimer's disease.