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Chibnall, Albert Charles, 1894-1988 (biochemist and local historian)



Albert Charles Chibnall, an outstanding figure in British biochemistry, was born in London on 28 January 1894. Educated at St Paul's School, 1907-12, and Clare College Cambridge, 1912-14, he served throughout the First World War, first in the Army Service Corps, transferring to the Royal Flying Corps in 1917. In 1919 he returned to academic life as a research student at Imperial College London, working with S B Schryver, Professor of Plant Biochemistry in the Botany Department, on the nitrogenous constituents of green leaves. The direction of his postwar career was confirmed by the two years, 1922-24, he spent at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, New Haven. Here he worked in the laboratory of the American plant biochemist T B Osborne whose influence was such that Chibnall continued to turn to him for advice until his death in 1929. Osborne's research assistant, and Chibnall's contemporary, H B Vickery, became a lifelong friend. In 1938 Chibnall returned to New Haven to deliver Yale University's Silliman Lectures which were published the following year as Protein metabolism in the plant. On his return to England in 1924 Chibnall worked on plant protein metabolism in J C Drummond's biochemical laboratory at University College London, initially supported by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. After a period of uncertainty when DSIR support ended suddenly in 1926, Imperial Chemical Industries stepped in to support his research at UCL and this support continued when Chibnall returned to Imperial College in 1929 as Professor of Biochemistry in succession to Schryver. With ICI support he was able to embark on a substantial programme of research in plant biochemistry as the acknowledged leader in the field, specialising in fatty and nitrogenous substances of leaves and the chemical structure of proteins. It was during this period that Chibnall collaborated with the Bristol physicist S H Piper on the chemistry of plant and insect waxes. Another significant collaboration was between Chibnall's laboratory and that of W T Astbury at Leeds University. Their mutual interest in plant protein fibres led to an investigation of possible commercial production by ICI. In 1943 Chibnall moved to Cambridge as the Sir William Dunn Professor of Biochemistry in succession to F G Hopkins. However he became convinced that a plant biochemist was not the right person to direct medical teaching in the department of Biochemistry at Cambridge, and that unless a second chair could be founded it was his duty to resign and make way for a medically qualified biochemist. He resigned in September 1949. One of his last official duties was to preside over the First International Congress of Biochemistry held in Cambridge in 1949. After his resignation Chibnall retained a small laboratory where he continued his protein research, especially in support of F Sanger's insulin work, until 1958. During these years Chibnall made a considerable contribution to the work of the Agricultural Research Council preparing reports, visiting research centres and serving on committees; he was a member of Council, 1947-57. Chibnall's later years were largely devoted to historical studies and his publications include Richard de Badew and the University of Cambridge, 1315-1340 and Sherington - Fiefs and Fields of a Buckinghamshire Village. He died on 10 January 1988 aged 93.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:


Albert Charles Chibnall: Correspondence and Papers

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS Add.8897
Scope and Contents

The Chibnall collection is comprised of significant biographical material, research notes, materials related to lectures and publications, records of Chibnall's involvement in socities and organisations, material related to Chinball's work during visits and conferences, and a large quantity of Chibnall's correspondence.

Dates: 1912-1990
Conditions Governing Access: Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (