the scientists: Watson
James Dewey Watson was born in Chicago, Illinois, on 6 April 1928.
Watson attended Horace Mann Grammar School and South Shore High
School in Chicago. He received a tuition scholarship to the University
of Chicago, and in 1943 entered their experimental four-year
In 1947, he received a BSc in Zoology and went
on to receive a fellowship for graduate study in Zoology at Indiana
University in Bloomington, where he received his PhD
in Zoology in 1950. His PhD thesis was a study of the effect
of hard X-rays on bacteriophage multiplication.
For the academic year from 1950-51, Watson spent his first postdoctoral
year in Copenhagen as a Merck Fellow of the National Research
Council. He worked with bacterial viruses, attempting to
study the fate of DNA of infecting virus particles. In 1951, at
a symposium in Naples, he met Maurice Wilkins and
saw for the first time the X-ray diffraction pattern of
crystalline DNA. This greatly stimulated him to change
the direction of his research toward the structural chemistry of
nucleic acids end proteins. He moved to work at the Cavendish Laboratory
He soon met Francis Crick and discovered their
common interest in solving the DNA structure. They
thought it should be possible to correctly guess its structure,
given both the experimental evidence at King's College plus careful
examination of the possible stereochemical configurations of polynucleotide
chains. Their first serious effort, in autumn 1951, was unsatisfactory.
Their second effort based, upon more experimental evidence and better
appreciation of the nucleic acid literature, resulted, early in
March 1953, in the proposal of the complementary double-helical
At the same time, Watson was experimentally investigating the
structure of tobacco mosaic virus, using X-ray
diffraction techniques. His aim was to see if its chemical subunits
were helically arranged was achieved in June 1952, when use of the
Cavendish's newly constructed rotating anode X-ray tubes allowed
an unambiguous demonstration of the helical construction of the
From 1953-55, Watson was at the California Institute of Technology
as Senior Research Fellow in Biology. There he collaborated with
Alexander Rich in X-ray diffraction studies of RNA.
In 1955-56 he was back in the Cavendish, again working with Crick.
During this visit they published several papers on the general principles
of virus construction.
Watson moved to Harvard in 1955 and became Professor in 1961. He
left Harvard in 1976 to become director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory,
New York. In 1988 he was appointed Associate Director for Human
Genome Research of the National Institutes of Health, and in 1989
Director of the National Center for Human Genome Research (NCHGR)
at the National Institutes of Health. During this time Watson was
a key figure in the launch of the Human Genome Project. He left
the NCHGR in 1992. In 1994 he became president of Cold Spring Harbor
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