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Maurice Frederick Wilkins.

posted Sep 22, 2015, 12:12 PM by Upali Salpadoru   [ updated Jul 20, 2019, 8:59 PM ]

 Prof.  Maurice  Wilkins.

                                       1916  -- 2004.

" X ray crystal photograpy by Wilkins and Rosalind helped Crick and Watson to get the DNA structure"


  Maurice  was born in Pangaroa in New Zealand. His father was a doctor of medicine immigrated from Ireland; his mother, Eveline Whittacker, was a school teacherBoth of Maurice's parents were committed vegetarians.

While he was still a baby the family moved to the Wellington city and lived at No.30 Kelburn Parade. 

He has described   his years in Wellington as the happiest of his life.

  1922  Age 6 Yrs.

  The family migrated to England. He was admitted to King Edward’s School in Birmingham.
1935   Age 19Yrs.
 At Cambridge he joined the Cambridge Scientists Anti War Group and the Communist party.

1938 Age 22 Yrs.

 He studied physics and graduated from the St John’s College , Cambridge.

1940 Age 24 Yrs.

 He obtained a PhD under the guidance of D.J.T. Randall from the Birmingham University. His thesis was mainly on a study of thermal stability of trapped electrons in phosphors, materials that  emit light when exposed to radiation such as UV or an electron beam.

 During the war he applied these techniques to improve the cathode ray tube screens for radar. Moving on to Manhattan Project he worked on separation of Uranium isotopes for use in bombs.

 After the horrifying event that resulted in the nuclear bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Wilkins developed a very negative attitude toward nuclear weapons . He decided to work on a field of science with positive applications..

1945  Age 29 Yrs.

He obtained  a lecturer post at St. Andrews' University in Scotland.

1946 Age 30Yrs.

He joined the Biophysics research at King’s College, London. For some time he studied genetic effects on ultrasonics.

1948 Age 32 Yrs.

He started research on reflecting microscopes for the study of nucleic acids in cells. His research on X-ray diffraction studies of DNA led to the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA.

1950 Age 34Yrs.

Wilkins became the Assistant Director of the Medical Research Council.

In 1951, Sir John Randall hired the scientist Rosalind Franklin, an expert in X-ray crystallography to the unit, allegedly leading her to believe that she would head the research on DNA whereas Maurice thought she was taken as his assistant. This built up tension and an unhealthy relationship between them. 

  1953 Age 37 Yrs.

  He isolated single fibers of DNA and gathered some data about Nucleic acid structure.

  Wilkins was relatively quiet, reserved, and non-confrontational; meanwhile, Franklin was brusque, outspoken . They generally avoided each other. If Wilkins and Franklin had cooperated better, they might have been the first to discover DNA's structure. Much of Watson and Crick's model was based on photographs taken by Wilkins and Franklin.

 Wilkins work was published as supporting data to the Watson-Crick model, and he went on to do much of the experimental work to prove the model was correct. However, Watson and Crick exclusively became household names.

James Watson who, with a friend and colleague of Wilkins’, Francis Crick, was working at the Cavendish Laboratory. Using a 1952 Wilkins/Franklin X-ray diffraction picture of the DNA molecule, Crick and Watson were able, to build their correct and detailed model of the DNA molecule.

Fig. 2. Maurice Wilkins with X-ray crystallographic equipment about 1954.
                   ( Pic.Chemical Heritage Foundation.)

1955 Age 39 Yrs.

  He was promoted to be the Deputy Director.

1959 Age 43 Yrs.

 He obtained the FRS. Patricia Ann Chidgey became his second wife.

1960 Age 44Yrs.

He shared the Albert Lasker Award jointly with Watson and Crick.

1962 Age 46 Yrs.

 Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins were awarded the  Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine for their discoveries. ( Rosalind Francis was dead by this time)

1981 Age 65 Yrs.

 Third man out. Wilkins retired but continued researching nucleic acid structure. He canvassed for high ethics in science and took an active part against armament race and causes of famine.  

2004  Age 88 Yrs.

  Maurice Wilkins died .

  He had a daughter Sarah and a son George. His recreations were gardening and collecting of sculptures.