poly atomic

John Lennard-Jones

Sir John Edward Lennard-Jones KBE, FRS (born October 27, 1894; died November 1, 1954) was a mathematician who held a chair of theoretical physics at Bristol University, and then a chair of theoretical science at Cambridge University. He may be regarded as the father of modern computational chemistry.

Lennard-Jones is well-known among scientists for his work on molecular structure, valency and intermolecular forces. Much research in these areas over several decades grew from a paper he published in 1929. His theories of liquids and of surface catalysis also remain influential. He wrote few, though influential papers.

His main interest was in atomic and molecular structure, especially the forces between atomic particles, the nature of chemical bonds and such basic matters as why water expands when it freezes. Holding the first Chair of Theoretical Chemistry in the United Kingdom, he built up a research school applying to phenomena in physics and organic chemistry new concepts of quantum mechanics and the interactions of subatomic particles. The department drew on many notable scientists and mathematicians, including S.F. Boys, C.A. Coulson, P. Dirac (1933 Nobel Laureate who came with Jones from Bristol), G.G. Hall, A. Hurley, and J. Pople.

Atoms of a noble gas interact via a potential in which an attracting van der Waals force balances a repelling force which results from overlapping electron orbits. A well known approximation to this potential is the so-called Lennard-Jones potential, a description of the potential energy as a function of the separation of the atoms. Also named after him, the Lennard-Jones Laboratory houses the School of Chemistry and Physics at Keele University. The Royal Society of Chemistry awards a Lennard-Jones Medal and hosts the Lennard-Jones lecture each year.

Keele University holds a collection of Lennard-Jones's published work, as well as a lab named in his honour. Professor C.A. Coulson’s collected lecture notes from 1928 - 1932, held in the Cambridge University Library, record Lennard-Jones's lectures. Coulson wrote 'I suspect that these are the first lectures on theoretical chemistry (or perhaps more accurately quantum chemistry) that had been given in Britain'. Lennard-Jones’s private papers are held at Churchill Archives Centre, in Cambridge.

John Edward Jones married Kathleen Lennard in 1926, adding his new wife's surname to his own to become Lennard-Jones. They had two children, John and Mary.

Life in overview

1894 Born in Leigh, Lancashire, as John Edward Jones, and educated at Leigh Grammar School where he specialised in classics.


  1. Jones, J.E. (1924) Proc. R. Soc. London, Ser. A 106, 441.
  2. Jones, J.E. (1924) Proc. R. Soc. London, Ser. A 106, 463.
  3. Lennard-Jones, J.E. (1929) Trans.Faraday Soc. 25, 668.
  4. Lennard-Jones, J.E. (1931) Proc. Camb. Phil. Soc. 27, 469.
  5. Lennard-Jones, J.E. (1934) Trans. Faraday Soc. 30, 70.
  6. Lennard-Jones, J.E. (1937) Proc. Roy. Soc. A158, 280.
  7. Lennard-Jones, Sir John (1949) Proc. Roy. Soc. A198, 1,14.
  8. Hall, G.G. and Lennard-Jones, Sir John (1950) Proc. Roy. Soc. A202, 155.

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