Sir John Edward Lennard-Jones KBE, FRS (27 October 1894 – 1 November 1954) was a British mathematician who was a professor of theoretical physics at University of Bristol, and then of theoretical science at the University of Cambridge. He may be regarded as the initiator of modern computational chemistry.
Lennard-Jones was born on 27 October 1894 at Leigh, Lancashire, the eldest son of Mary Ellen and Hugh Jones, an insurance agent. He was educated at Leigh Grammar School, going on to study at the University of Manchester, graduating in 1915 with a first-class honours degree in mathematics.
Lennard-Jones is well-known among scientists for his work on molecular structure, valency and intermolecular forces. Much research of these topics 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, albeit influential, papers.
His main interest was of 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 established a research school applying to phenomena in physics and organic chemistry new concepts of quantum mechanics and the interactions of subatomic particles. The department attracted many notable scientists and mathematicians, including S.F. Boys, C.A. Coulson, 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 every second year.
Keele University holds a collection of Lennard-Jones's published work, as well as a laboratory named in his honour. Professor C.A. Coulson’s collected lecture notes from 1928–1932, held in Cambridge University Library, record Lennard-Jones' 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.
On 26 August 1925 he married Kathleen Mary Lennard, and added her surname to his own to become Lennard-Jones. The couple had two children, John and Mary. He died of cancer at Stoke-on-Trent on 1 November 1954.
The Lennard-Jones Centre at the University of Cambridge is named in his honour.
The school of chemistry/medicinal chemistry and physics at Keele university is named after him.