Oral history of British science

Wilkins, Maurice (10 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 10: Maurice Wilkins [MW] studied physical changes in gene structure, and later work with reflecting microscopes - and later on did some molecular orientation work. In combination with Gosling (research student) MW did some X-ray diffraction work on sperm heads and got some good results - fibre diffraction. Then they got Rosalind Franklin involved in DNA patterns. But Randall never told MW that he had written to Rosalind Franklin to tell her that MW was dropping out of this work. When later MW gave a lecture in Cambridge on evidence for helical structure he was told to stop this work and go back to the microscope. Talks about misunderstandings and difficulties with Rosalind Franklin, who, according to him did not fit in very well with teamwork under Randall. At the beginning MW and she were friendly, went out together, discussed politics. But later difficulties arose in the working atmosphere - with no clear definitions as to who was working on what. Randall would have preferred MW to go back to dividing cell work and Franklin on DNA structure. MW was then on MRC staff. MW had frequent disagreements with Randall but usually found ways to work things out. Discussion on his meeting with Francis Crick - doing similar work - and the ensuing complications; also with Rosalind Franklin, his meetings with Crick and Watson in Cambridge, suggestions by Kendrew that MW should collaborate with them - but MW refused. MW gives his story how it came about that he showed Jim Watson Rosalind Franklin's photograph on the helical pattern. More about Rosalind Franklin before she left, the misunderstandings and complications.

  • 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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