Papers and correspondence of Colin William Fraser McClare, 1937-1977

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The papers include a little biographical and autobiographical material, laboratory notebooks ca 1964- 1976 and 'ideas' diaries, drafts for lectures and papers (not all published) c 1959 - c 1976, teaching material, in particular for a course on the 'Social Impact of the Biosciences' started in 1973 with which McClare had been closely involved, a set of McClare's publications including his major papers on bioenergetics and the correspondence arising. The correspondence, 1964-1976 is chiefly from the early 1970s. It includes letters exchanged with K.R. Popper, who offered considerable encouragement to McClare's early attempts to formulate and publish his scientific ideas, and whose philosophy McClare acknowledged as a profound influence.

Administrative / Biographical History

McClare was educated at Felsted School and Emmanuel College, Cambridge where he read natural sciences, specialising in chemistry. He began his research at Cambridge on the chemistry of free radicals in biology as a Medical Research Council Student, 1958-1961, and on energy transfer in nucleic acids as a Beit Fellow, 1961-1963. His appointment to a Lecturership in Biophysics at King's College, London, in 1963 led to a growing interest in bioenergetics and the problems of muscle contraction. He concluded that classical thermodynamics was inadequate for the description of biological processes, and that the application of the Second Law of Thermodynamics to biological machines required the introduction of time scales. His ideas were not generally accepted and although he wrote extensively on the subject his papers were not accepted for publication until 1971, when four controversial papers appeared in the Journal of Theoretical Biology and Nature, generating a vigorous correspondence with scientists all over the world. McClare's unorthodox views failed to gain the approval of established scientific opinion and he took his own life at the age of thirty-nine.


By section as follows: Biographical and personal, Notebooks and working notes, Scientific drafts and publications, Talks, lectures and conferences, Teaching material, Scientific correspondence. Index of correspondents.

Conditions Governing Access

Open, subject to production of identification and signature of reader's undertaking.

Other Finding Aids

Printed Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Colin William Fraser McClare: CSAC catalogue no. 77/1/81, 30 pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath.

Summary guide entry on-line at, and detailed catalogue available in hard copy in the Centre's reading room.

Custodial History

Received for cataloguing in 1979 by the Contemporary Scientific Archives Centre from Mrs Gill McClare, widow and the Biophysics Department, King's College London. Placed in King's College Archives, London in 1980.