DNA 50

About the scientists: Crick

Francis Crick
Francis Harry Compton Crick was born on 8 June 1916 in Northampton, UK. Crick was educated at Northampton Grammar School and Mill Hill School, London. He studied physics at University College London obtaining a BSc in 1937 before starting research for a PhD but this was interrupted by the outbreak of war. In 1939 he worked as a scientist for the British Admiralty, and left in 1947 to study biology.

Supported by a studentship from the Medical Research Council and with some financial help from his family, Crick went to Cambridge and worked at the Strangeways Research Laboratory. In 1949 he joined the Medical Research Council Unit headed by Max Perutz. He became a research student for the second time in 1950, as a member of Caius College, Cambridge, and obtained a PhD in 1954 on a thesis entitled ‘X-ray diffraction: polypeptides and proteins’.

During the academic year 1953-54. Crick was on leave of absence at the Protein Structure Project of the Brooklyn Polytechnic in Brooklyn, New York. He has also lectured at Harvard, as a Visiting Professor and has visited other laboratories in the USA.

In 1947 Crick knew no biology and practically no organic chemistry or crystallography, so that much of the next few years was spent learning the elements of these subjects. During this period, together with W Cochran and V Vand, he worked out the general theory of X-ray diffraction by a helix, and at the same time as Linus Pauling and Robert Corey, suggested that the alpha-keratin pattern was due to alpha-helices coiled round each other.

A critical influence in Crick's career was his friendship, beginning in 1951, with James Watson, then a young man of 23, leading in 1953 to the proposal of the double-helical structure for DNA and the replication scheme. Crick and Watson subsequently suggested a general theory for the structure of small viruses.

Crick. in collaboration with Alex Rich, has proposed structures for polyglycine II and collagen and (with Alex Rich, D R Davies, and James Watson) a structure for polyadenylic acid.

Later, in collaboration with Sydney Brenner, Crick concentrated more on biochemistry and genetics leading to ideas about protein synthesis (the ‘adaptor hypothesis’), and the genetic code.

Crick was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1959.

In 1976 Crick joined the Salk Institute in California, where his attention shifted to the way the brain functions. His studies has focused on the role of neurons and the interactions between them in consciousness. His ideas were summarized in his 1994 book 'The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul.'

image: The Nobel Foundation