Donald Lynden-Bell was educated at the University of Cambridge, where, after periods at the California Institute of Technology and the Royal Greenwich Observatory, he became professor of astrophysics in 1972. He is known for significant contributions to the theories of star motions, the formation of the Galaxy, spiral structure in galaxies, chemical evolution of galaxies, and the distributions and motions of galaxies and quasars. His 1962 paper with Olin Eggen and Allan Sandage, proposing that the Galaxy formed in a free-falling collapse, has stimulated an enormous amount of research. In 1969 he proposed that black holes are at the centers of galaxies and provide the energy sources for quasars.
He is the senior member and chief theorist of the group of seven astronomers who have investigated the motions of nearby galaxy clusters and who proposed the “Great Attractor” to explain them. He has worked on the relation of the nature of the universe to inertia (Mach's Principle). With his wife Ruth, a chemist, he has investigated thermodynamic equilibrium in clusters of stars and galaxies. His recent research has dealt with problems in optics, cosmology, and relativistic physics.