Francis Crick, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1962

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Francis Harry Compton Crick

Birthdate:
Birthplace: Northampton, Northamptonshire, England, United Kingdom
Death: July 18, 2004 (88)
San Diego, San Diego County, California, United States (Colon cancer)
Immediate Family:

Son of Harry Crick and Annie Elizabeth Crick
Ex-husband of Ruth Doreen Crick Potter and Odile Crick
Father of Private; Private and Jacqueline Marie-Therese Nichols
Brother of Anthony Crick

Managed by: Yigal Burstein
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Francis Crick, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1962

Francis Harry Compton Crick, OM FRS (8 June 1916 – 28 July 2004) was a British molecular biologist, biophysicist, and neuroscientist, most noted for being a co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule in 1953 with James Watson, work which was based partly on fundamental studies done by Rosalind Franklin, Raymond Gosling and Maurice Wilkins. Together with Watson and Wilkins, he was jointly awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in 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 helical structure of DNA. He is widely known for the use of the term "central dogma" to summarize the idea that once information is transferred from nucleic acids (DNA or RNA) to proteins, it cannot flow back to nucleic acids. In other words, the final step in the flow of information from nucleic acids to proteins is irreversible.

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" according to Christof Koch.

Early life and education

Crick was the first son of Harry Crick (1887–1948) and Annie Elizabeth Crick (née Wilkins; 1879–1955). He was born and raised in 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.

Walter Crick, his uncle, 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), Crick was deflected from a possible career in physics. During his second year as a PhD student, however, he was awarded the Carey Foster Research Prize, a great honour.

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.

He married twice, fathered three children and was the grandfather of six grandchildren; his brother Anthony (born in 1918) predeceased him in 1966.

Spouses:

  • Ruth Doreen Crick, née Dodd (b. 1913, m. 18 February 1940 – 8 May 1947. d. 2011), became Mrs. James Stewart Potter
  • Odile Crick, née Speed (b. 11 August 1920, m. 14 August 1949 – 28 July 2004, d. 5 July 2007)

Children:

  • Michael Francis Compton (b. 25 November 1940) [by Doreen Crick]
  • Gabrielle Anne (b. 15 July 1951) and Jacqueline Marie-Therese [later Nichols] (b. 12 March 1954, d. 28 February 2011) [by Odile Crick];

Grandchildren

Alexander (b. March 1974); Kindra (b. May 1976); Camberley (b. June 1978); Francis Henry Riley (b. February 1981); Michael & Barbara Crick's four children; Mark & Nicholas, the late Jacqueline and Christopher Nichols' children.

Death

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 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.

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Francis Crick, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1962's Timeline

1916
June 8, 1916
Northampton, Northamptonshire, England, United Kingdom
1954
March 12, 1954
Age 37
2004
July 18, 2004
Age 88
San Diego, San Diego County, California, United States