July 31, 2004 by

Francis Crick

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Categories: Scientists

fcrick.jpgFrancis Harry Compton Crick, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and biochemist who co-discovered the “double-helix” structure of DNA, died on July 28 after a long battle with colon cancer. He was 88.
Crick was born in Northampton, England, with an insatiable curiosity about the world. After reading a children’s encyclopedia his parents gave him, he began to worry that everything would be discovered by the time he grew up. He graduated from University College of London with a degree in physics and mathematics then worked as a scientist for the British Admiralty during World War II.
While pursuing his doctorate at the University of Cambridge in 1951, Crick joined forces with a 23-year-old American named James Watson. Two years later, Crick and Watson entered a nearby pub and announced that they had found “the secret of life.” In reality, they had determined that a DNA molecule resembled a twisted ladder, or double helix shape. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is the genetic blueprint that determines the physical and hereditary make-up of all living organisms. Using pieces of wire, sheet metal, colored beads and cardboard, they constructed a 3-D model of the molecule.
Their research would change the course of history.
Over the next half century, this DNA discovery would become the foundation for a multi-billion dollar biotechnology industry. It would enable law enforcement officials to solve crimes using DNA evidence, help doctors genetically detect future diseases and aid farmers in engineering healthy crops that no longer required the use of pesticides. For their efforts, Crick and Watson received the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1962. Watson’s book, “The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA,” became a bestseller six years later.
Crick remained at Cambridge until 1977. A dreamer with a penchant for pondering grand ideas, he spent the rest of his days studying the neurobiological basis of consciousness at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California. Crick also published numerous books, including “Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul,” in which he redefined the mystical explanation of a soul by describing an individual’s personality, identity and ambitions as simply the behavior of nerve cells and their associated molecules, and “Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature,” in which he suggested that aliens from a more advanced civilization created life on Earth. His memoir, “What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery,” was published in 1988.
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