Educated at Barrow Grammar School, he graduated in 1949 with a bachelor"s degree in chemistry from the University of London, after which he moved to the University of Nottingham where he obtained his Doctor of Philosophy
In 1953 he was appointed lecturer at the University of Sheffield before returning to London in 1956 as a lecturer at Imperial College London. He was Professor of Chemistry at the University of Manchester from 1961 to 1967, University College London from 1967 to 1970, and the University of Cambridge from 1970 to 1995. He was also the first Warden of Robinson College, the newest of the Cambridge colleges, from its foundation in 1977 until 2001.
He was also an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, and its president from 1986–1988.
He was knighted in 1982 and created Baron Lewis of Newnham of Newnham in the County of Cambridgeshire on 8 February 1989. In 1993, he was made an Honorary Fellow of the University of Central Lancashire.
In 1995, he was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Science) by the University of Bath. In 1998 he became the fourth Chairman of the Standing Committee on Structural Safety, serving until 2002.
When Lewis died, Robinson College flew its flag at half mast.
A memorial service in his memory was held in the college"s chapel on 28 February 2015, the day after a symposium on his work, chaired by Emeritus Professor Brian Johnson. Donations in his memory were used to create the "Lewis Research Studentship in Chemistry", a three-year graduate studentship in Chemistry at Robinson College.
Royal Society; National Academy of Sciences]
He was a member of the House of Lords, where he sat as a cross bencher and was a member of a number of Select Committees on Science and Technology. He was also a member of the Advisory Council for the Campaign for Science and Engineering.
Married Elfreida M. Lamb in 1951.