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Born on this day
Francis Harry Compton Crick
Francis Harry Compton Crick was an English molecular biologist, biophysicist, and neuroscientist.
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8 June 2020

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Francis Harry Compton Crick8.6.1916

Wikipedia (27 May 2013, 14:17)

Francis Harry Compton Crick, OM, FRS (8 June 1916 – 28 July 2004) was an English molecular biologist, biophysicist, and neuroscientist, and most noted for being a co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule in 1953 together with James D. Watson. He, Watson, and Maurice Wilkins were jointly awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine "for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material".

Crick was an important theoretical molecular biologist and played a crucial role in research related to revealing the genetic code. He is widely known for use of the term "central dogma" to summarize an idea that genetic information flow in cells is essentially one-way, from DNA to RNA to protein.

During the remainder of his career, he held the post of J.W. Kieckhefer Distinguished Research Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. His later research centered on theoretical neurobiology and attempts to advance the scientific study of human consciousness. He remained in this post until his death; "he was editing a manuscript on his death bed, a scientist until the bitter end"

Early life and education

Francis Harry Compton Crick was the first son of Harry Crick (1887–1948) and Annie Elizabeth Crick (née Wilkins; 1879–1955). He was born and raised between Abington Park and Weston Favell, then a small village near the English town of Northampton, in which Crick’s father and uncle ran the family’s boot and shoe factory. His grandfather, Walter Drawbridge Crick (1857–1903), an amateur naturalist, wrote a survey of local foraminifera (single-celled protists with shells), corresponded with Charles Darwin, and had two gastropods (snails or slugs) named after him.

At an early age, Francis was attracted to science and what he could learn about it from books. As a child, he was taken to church by his parents. But by about age 12, he said he did not want to go anymore, as he preferred a scientific search for answers over religious belief.

His uncle, Walter Crick, lived in a small house on the south side of Abington Avenue; he had a shed at the bottom of his little garden where he taught Crick to blow glass, do chemical experiments and to make photographic prints. When he was eight or nine he transferred to the most junior form of the Northampton Grammar School, on the Billing Road. This was about 1 1/4 miles from his home so he could walk there and back, by Park Avenue South and Abington Park Crescent, but he more often went by bus or, later, by bicycle. The teacher – a Miss Holding – was an inspired teacher and made everything interesting. The teaching in the higher forms was satisfactory, but not as stimulating. After the age of 14, he was educated at Mill Hill School in London (on scholarship), where he studied mathematics, physics, and chemistry with his best friend John Shilston. He shared the Walter Knox Prize for Chemistry on Mill Hill School's Foundation Day, Friday, 7 July 1933. He declared that his success was inspired by the quality of teaching he received whilst a pupil at Mill Hill.

At the age of 21, Crick earned a B.Sc. degree in physics from University College London. Crick had failed to gain a place at a Cambridge college, probably through failing their requirement for Latin. Crick later became a PhD student and Honorary Fellow of Gonville and Caius College and mainly worked at the Cavendish Laboratory and the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. He was also an Honorary Fellow of Churchill College and of University College, London.

Crick began a Ph.D. research project on measuring viscosity of water at high temperatures (which he later described as "the dullest problem imaginable") in the laboratory of physicist Edward Neville da Costa Andrade at University College, London, but with the outbreak of World War II (in particular, an incident during the Battle of Britain when a bomb fell through the roof of the laboratory and destroyed his experimental apparatus), During his second year as a PhD student, however, he was awarded the Carey Foster Research Prize, a great honor.  Crick was deflected from a possible career in physics.

During World War II, he worked for the Admiralty Research Laboratory, from which emerged a group of many notable scientists, including David Bates, Robert Boyd, George Deacon, John Gunn, Harrie Massey, and Nevill Mott; he worked on the design of magnetic and acoustic mines, and was instrumental in designing a new mine that was effective against German minesweepers.

Post-World War II

In 1947, Crick began studying biology and became part of an important migration of physical scientists into biology research. This migration was made possible by the newly won influence of physicists such as Sir John Randall, who had helped win the war with inventions such as radar. Crick had to adjust from the "elegance and deep simplicity" of physics to the "elaborate chemical mechanisms that natural selection had evolved over billions of years." He described this transition as, "almost as if one had to be born again." According to Crick, the experience of learning physics had taught him something important—hubris—and the conviction that since physics was already a success, great advances should also be possible in other sciences such as biology. Crick felt that this attitude encouraged him to be more daring than typical biologists who tended to concern themselves with the daunting problems of biology and not the past successes of physics.

For the better part of two years, Crick worked on the physical properties of cytoplasm at Cambridge's Strangeways Laboratory, headed by Honor Bridget Fell, with a Medical Research Council studentship, until he joined Max Perutz and John Kendrew at the Cavendish Laboratory. The Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge was under the general direction of Sir Lawrence Bragg, who had won the Nobel Prize in 1915 at the age of 25. Bragg was influential in the effort to beat a leading American chemist, Linus Pauling, to the discovery of DNA's structure (after having been 'pipped-at-the-post' by Pauling's success in determining the alpha helix structure of proteins). At the same time Bragg's Cavendish Laboratory was also effectively competing with King's College London, whose Biophysics department was under the direction of Sir John Randall. (Randall had turned down Francis Crick from working at King's College.) Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins of King's College were personal friends, which influenced subsequent scientific events as much as the close friendship between Crick and James Watson. Crick and Wilkins first met at King's College and not, as erroneously recorded by two authors, at the Admiralty during World War II.


Crick died of colon cancer on 28 July 2004 at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) Thornton Hospital in La Jolla; he was cremated and his ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean. A public memorial was held on 27 September 2004 at the Salk Institute, La Jolla, near San Diego, California; guest speakers included James D. Watson, Sydney Brenner, Alex Rich, Seymour Benzer, Aaron Klug, Christof Koch, Pat Churchland, Vilayanur Ramachandran, Tomaso Poggio, Leslie Orgel, Terry Sejnowski, his son Michael Crick, and his youngest daughter Jacqueline Nichols. A private memorial for family and colleagues was held on 3 August 2004.


Crick was interested in two fundamental unsolved problems of biology: how molecules make the transition from the non-living to the living, and how the brain makes a conscious mind. He realized that his background made him more qualified for research on the first topic and the field of biophysics. It was at this time of Crick’s transition from physics to biology that he was influenced by both Linus Pauling and Erwin Schrödinger. It was clear in theory that covalent bonds in biological molecules could provide the structural stability needed to hold genetic information in cells. It only remained as an exercise of experimental biology to discover exactly which molecule was the genetic molecule. In Crick’s view, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, Gregor Mendel’s genetics and knowledge of the molecular basis of genetics, when combined, revealed the secret of life. Crick had the very optimistic view that life would very soon be created in a test tube. However, some people (such as fellow researcher and colleague Esther Lederberg) thought that Crick's views were overly optimistic 

It was clear that some macromolecule such as a protein was likely to be the genetic molecule. However, it was well known that proteins are structural and functional macromolecules, some of which carry out enzymatic reactions of cells. In the 1940s, some evidence had been found pointing to another macromolecule, DNA, the other major component of chromosomes, as a candidate genetic molecule. In the 1944 Avery-MacLeod-McCarty experiment, Oswald Avery and his collaborators showed that a heritable phenotypic difference could be caused in bacteria by providing them with a particular DNA molecule.

However, other evidence was interpreted as suggesting that DNA was structurally uninteresting and possibly just a molecular scaffold for the apparently more interesting protein molecules. Crick was in the right place, in the right frame of mind, at the right time (1949), to join Max Perutz’s project at Cambridge University, and he began to work on the X-ray crystallography of proteins. X-ray crystallography theoretically offered the opportunity to reveal the molecular structure of large molecules like proteins and DNA, but there were serious technical problems then preventing X-ray crystallography from being applicable to such large molecules.according to Christof Koch.
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