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Coulson, Charles Alfred

bonds theoretical molecules molecular

(1910–74) British mathematician: a founder of modern theoretical chemistry.

Coulson was unusual in holding professorships in theoretical physics (King’s College, London 1947–52), applied mathematics (Oxford 1952–72) and theoretical chemistry (Oxford 1972–4). He also played a major role in creating the third of these subject areas and wrote useful books on Waves and on Electricity . He also published on meteorology, biology and theology.

Coulson developed the application of quantum mechanics to the bonds between atoms in molecules. These bonds originate in the interaction between the outer electrons of the bonded atoms. He showed how to calculate those molecular bond-lengths and energies of interest to chemists. The method he used is called molecular orbital (MO) theory (1933). He also showed how bonds intermediate between single and double bonds could arise (1937). This then allowed him and H C Longuet-Higgins (1923– ) to explain the delocalized (ie multicentre) bonding in such aromatic molecules as benzene. In 1952 he wrote his classic textbook Valence , which proved valuable in the development of the subject. Later he studied bonding in molecules of biochemical importance.

Coulson influenced his generation not only as a theoretical chemist, where his methods have proved of great value, but also as a leading Methodist and writer on science and Christianity. He was chairman of the charity Oxfam from 1965–71.

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