Oral history of British science

Wilkins, Maurice (9 of 12). National Life Stories: Leaders of National Life

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  • Subjects

    Biophysics; Molecular Biology

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  • Interviewees

    Wilkins, Maurice, 1916-2004 (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Rose, Steven (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 9: Maurice Wilkins [MW] explains how he came to work with Oliphant on means of evaporating uranium metal and the removal of the group to Berkeley during the war - under Lawrence and Oliphant. Evaporating metal proved difficult but eventually succeeded by "sputttering", using 32-inch cyclotron. The general nature of the project - making the atom bomb - was known. MW explains his mixed feelings after dropping the atom bomb - the pleasure of the scientific achievement, and then his thoughts on the long-term implications of scientific discoveries. Mentions the celebrations "American style" after the atom bomb which did not appeal to him and MW did not want to stay connected with atom bomb work. After reading Schroedinger's book on 'What is Life', MW became more interested in the biological aspect and took up a job with Randall at St. Andrews University with interests in biophysics. But there was a cultural shock, coming from lively San Francisco to war-weary stuffy St. Andrews, in 1946. MW talks about his politics - post Cambridge - his disillusionment with the Communist Party after the Nazi-Russian pact, his communist friends in California. MW considers himself now as "socialistic". MW left St. Andrews after one year. MW had married an American girl in Berkeley but it did not work out. MW joined Randall at King's College London, but found the work was not an "intellectual synthesis" he had hoped for but became rather dreary structural molecular biology. For a time MW gave lectures to the public on dangers of atom bomb. MW got interested at the beginning of work on structural molecular biology and started with ultrasonic effects on DNA mutations.

  • Description

    Joint Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962 with Francis Harry Compton Crick and James Dewey Watson for their work and discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material; DNA structure, described as double helix.

  • Related transcripts

    Professor Maurice Wilkins interviewed by Steven Rose: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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