Catalogue description Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of; ALBERT CHARLES CHIBNALL FRS; (1894 - 1988)

This record is held by Cambridge University Library: Department of Manuscripts and University Archives

Details of NCUACS 33/1/92
Reference: NCUACS 33/1/92
Title: Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of; ALBERT CHARLES CHIBNALL FRS; (1894 - 1988)













The collection includes significant biographical material and records of Chibnall's research, lectures and publications, societies and organisations, and visits and conferences. Chibnall's general scientific correspondence is particularly extensive and important.


Section A, Biographical and autobiographical, is especially noteworthy for the five volumes of unfinished family and personal history. There is also documentation of Chibnall's First World War service including photographs, and correspondence relating to the Sir William Dunn Professorship in 1943.


Section B, Research, comprises seven binders of notes covering the period 1925-37, and correspondence and papers relating to plant-protein fibres research, 1935-41, and insulin research 1951-58.


Section C, Lectures and publications, includes material relating to Chibnall's Silliman Lectures at Yale University in 1938 and the book based on them. There is also a little documentation of the 1942 Royal Society Bakerian Lecture and the 1945 Procter Memorial Lecture.


Section D, Societies and organisations, includes records of Chibnall's work for the Agricultural Research Council. Particularly well documented are the wartime reports he prepared on the direct use of leaf protein in human nutrition and protein supplies for forage. There is a little correspondence with Lord Rothschild and W K Slater, Chairman and Secretary of the ARC, respectively, and reports of a number of visits to ARC research centres. The International Union of Biochemistry is represented by correspondence and papers relating to its formation including documents circulated by C R Harington, Chairman of the International Committee established at the First International Congress of Biochemistry in 1949. There is also documentation of a further wartime report prepared by Chibnall, on human protein requirements and supplies, for the Scientific Committee on Food Policy of the War Cabinet.


Section E, Visits and conferences, is important for the records of the First International Congress of Biochemistry. There are correspondence about arrangements, committee papers, draft proceedings of opening and closing sessions and letters of thanks from participants.


Section F, Correspondence, is by far the largest in the collection. There are sequences of correspondence, sometimes extending over several decades, with plant biochemists and protein chemists in Britain and overseas, especially the USA and Scandinavia. There are particularly noteworthy sequences of correspondence with W T Astbury, K Bailey, R K Cannan, H J Channon, C S Hanes, K U Linderstrom-Lang, K P G Link, T B Osborne, S H Piper, R R Porter, F Sanger, R L M Synge, H B Vickery and A I Virtanen.


Compiled by Peter Harper and Timothy E. Powell


The work of the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, and the production of this catalogue, are made possible by the support of the following societies and organisations:


E P Abraham Cephalosporin Fund


The Biochemical Society


The British Library


The Geological Society


The Institute of Physics


The Royal Society


The Royal Society of Chemistry


The Society of Chemical Industry


The Wellcome Trust


The Wolfson Foundation

Date: 1912-1990
Held by: Cambridge University Library: Department of Manuscripts and University Archives, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Chibnall, Albert Charles, 1894-1988, scientist and biochemist

Physical description: 14 boxes
Immediate source of acquisition:

The papers were received from Professor Chibnall's widow, Dr Marjorie Chibnall FBA, in September 1991.

  • Biochemistry
Administrative / biographical background:

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.

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