Highly regarded for his discovery of the structure of the DNA molecule with his colleague James D. Watson, Francis Crick was a scientific genius. He was a British molecular biologist, physicist, and neuroscientist who jointly won a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Watson and Maurice Wilkins mainly for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids.
Francis Crick was born June 8, 1916 in Northampton, England, the elder child of Harry Crick and Annie Elizabeth Wilkins. He received his early education at Northampton Grammar School and, after the age of 14, Mill Hill School in London (on scholarship), where he studied mathematics, physics, and chemistry with great interest. When he turned eighteen, Crick entered the University College, London, where he graduated with his Bachelor of Science degree in Physics in 1937.
In the same year he started research for a Ph.D. under Prof E. N. da C. Andrade, but this was interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1939. For the period of the war he worked as a scientist for the British Admiralty, mainly in connection with magnetic and acoustic mines. He left the Admiralty in 1947 and began studying biology.
Contributions and Achievements:
At Cambridge he began his Ph.D. work at the Strangeways Laborator with Arthur Hughes and they together examined the physical properties of cytoplasm in the cultured fibroblast cells. After two years he joined the Medical Research Unit at Cavendish Laboratory where he worked with Max Perutz and John Kerdrew on protein structure. He ended up doing his Ph. D work on x-ray diffraction of proteins.
An important influence in Crick’s career was his companionship, beginning in 1951, with James D. Watson at Cambridge. Both of them with their colleague Maurice Wilkins, they tried to expose the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Crick and Watson combined their respective knowledge of x-ray diffraction and phage and bacterial genetics and revealed the structure of DNA in 1953. They also published their discovery in the April 25 edition of the journal Nature.
Crick became best recognized for his work in the discovery of the double helix and since then he has made many other discoveries. After his finding of the double helix, Crick got busy in studying the relationship between DNA and genetic coding with Vernon Ingram. During this study, they discovered the role of the genetic material in determining the specificity of proteins. In 1957, Crick along with Sydney Brenner initiated his work to determine how the sequence of DNA bases would specify the amino acid sequence in proteins.
Crick “established not only the basic genetic code, but predicted the mechanism for protein synthesis” (McMurray, 427). His work led to many RNA/DNA discoveries and also helped in the formation of the DNA/RNA dictionary. During 1960 Crick examined the structure and possible functions of certain proteins related with chromosomes called histones. In 1976 Crick decided to leave Cambridge Laboratories to take the position of Kieckhefer Professor at Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California. It was there that Crick began his project of the study of the brain.
Besides winning the Nobel Prize in 1953 and Albert Lasker Award in 1960, Crick has won the 1962 Gardener Foundation Award, the 1972 Royal Society’s Royal Medal, and the 1976 Royal Society’s Copley Medal. He was also approved as a Visiting Lecturer at Rockefeller Institute in 1959 and as a Visiting Professor for Harvard University during 1959 and 1960.
He died of cancer on 28 July, 2004 in San Diego. His death is regarded as the ‘death of a golden era in biology’.