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Maurice Wilkins

Maurice WilkinsAKA Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins

Born: 15-Dec-1916
Birthplace: Wairarapa, New Zealand
Died: 5-Oct-2004
Location of death: London, England
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Biologist

Nationality: England
Executive summary: Took X-ray pictures of DNA

Maurice Wilkins was a British biophysicist best known for his contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA. X-ray diffraction pictures done by Wilkins and his assistant/co-worker Rosalind Franklin on the aligned fibers within DNA were seen by James Watson and Francis Crick who, incorporating what it revealed, were then able to build an accurate, detailed model of the DNA molecule. Wilkins, Watson, and Crick were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1962.

As a graduate student, Wilkins's doctoral thesis had dealt with the study of the thermal stability of trapped electrons on phosphors, and on the theory of phosphorescence in terms of electron. Wilkins applied his research, during WWII, to improving cathode-ray tube screens for radar. He then worked for a time under Mark Oliphant (who had been Rutherford's deputy of research at Cambridge) studying the separation of isotopes in bombs. Not surprisingly, Wilkins and others in the research group were brought on board the Manhattan Project and moved all the way to Berkeley, California where they continued their research under the direction of Ernest Lawrence and Robert Oppenheimer.

After the horrifying success of the project, which resulted in the nuclear bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Wilkins developed a very negative attitude toward nuclear weapons and resolved to go into "another branch of science, one with more positive applications." He returned to Britain, becoming a lecturer in Physics at St. Andrew's University in Scotland where he worked in biophysics, seeking to utilize X-ray crystallography in biological research. It was here, in 1950, that Wilkins and Raymond Gosling took the first ever images of the DNA molecule. Two years later, with Rosalind Franklin on the team, the famous image was produced. Watson and Crick published their resultant work in 1953.

In 1955 Wilkins was promoted to Deputy Director of the Medical Research Council Unit. He was appointed Honorary Lecturer to a newly formed sub-department of Biophysics at King's College, and in 1961 a full Department of Biophysics was established. In 1959 he married, to Patricia Ann Chidgey. They had two children, a daughter Sarah and a son George. In addition to the Nobel Prize, Wilkins was awarded the Albert Lasker Award (also jointly with Watson and Crick) by the American Public Health Association in 1960. In 1962 he was made Companion of the British Empire.

Father: Edgar Henry Wilkins (doctor)
Daughter: Sarah Wilkins
Son: George Wilkins
Wife: Patricia Ann Chidgey

    High School: King Edward's School, Birmingham, England
    University: BS Physics, St. John's College, Cambridge University (1938)
    University: PhD Physics, Birmingham University (1940)

    Nobel Prize for Medicine 1962 (with Francis Crick and James Watson)
    Manhattan Project

Author of books:
The Third Man of the Double Helix (2003, memoir)


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