Maurice Wilkins, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1962

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Maurice Wilkins, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1962

Birthplace: Pongaroa, Tararua District, Manawatu-Wanganui, New Zealand
Death: October 05, 2004 (87)
London, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Son of Edgar Henry Wilkins and Eveline Constance Jane Wilkins
Husband of Patricia Ann Wilkins
Ex-husband of Ruth Wilkins
Father of Private; Private; Private; Private and son Wilkins

Managed by: Yigal Burstein
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Maurice Wilkins, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1962

Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins CBE FRS (15 December 1916 – 5 October 2004) was a New Zealand-born English physicist and molecular biologist, and Nobel Laureate whose research contributed to the scientific understanding of phosphorescence, isotope separation, optical microscopy and X-ray diffraction, and to the development of radar. He is best known for his work at King's College London on the structure of DNA which falls into three distinct phases. The first was in 1948–50 where his initial studies produced the first clear X-ray images of DNA which he presented at a conference in Naples in 1951 attended by James Watson. During the second phase of work (1951–52) he produced clear "B form" "X" shaped images from squid sperm which he sent to James Watson and Francis Crick causing Watson to write "Wilkins... has obtained extremely excellent X-ray diffraction photographs"[of DNA]. Throughout this period Wilkins was consistent in his belief that DNA was helical even when Rosalind Franklin expressed strong views to the contrary.

In 1953 Franklin instructed Raymond Gosling to give Wilkins, without condition, a high quality image of "B" form DNA which she had unexpectedly produced months earlier but had “put it aside” to concentrate on other work. Wilkins, having checked he was free to use the photograph to confirm his earlier results showed it to Watson. This image, along with the knowledge that Linus Pauling had published an incorrect structure of DNA, “mobilised” Watson to restart model building efforts with Crick. Important contributions and data from Wilkins, Franklin (obtained via Max Perutz) and colleagues in Cambridge enabled Watson and Crick to propose a double-helix model for DNA. The third and longest phase of Wilkins' work on DNA took place from 1953 onwards. Here Wilkins led a major project at King's College London to test, verify and make significant corrections to the DNA model proposed by Watson and Crick and to study the structure of RNA. Wilkins, Crick and Watson were 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."

Birth and early education

Monument to Maurice Wilkins, Main Street, Pongaroa, New Zealand Wilkins was born in Pongaroa, north Wairarapa, New Zealand where his father, Edgar Henry Wilkins was a medical doctor. His family had come from Dublin, where his paternal and maternal grandfathers were, respectively, Headmaster of Dublin High School and a Chief of Police. The Wilkins moved to Birmingham, England when Maurice was 6. Later, he attended Wylde Green College and then went to King Edward's School from 1929 to 1935.

Personal life

Wilkins married an art student, Ruth, when he was at Berkeley. They had a son. He married his second wife Patricia Ann Chidgey in 1959. They had four children, Sarah, George, Emily and William.

He published his autobiography, The Third Man of the Double Helix, in 2003.

In the years before World War II, he was an active anti-war activist, joining the Cambridge Scientists Anti-War Group. He joined the Communist Party, until the invasion of Poland by the Soviet Army in September 1939. Formerly classified UK security service papers reveal that Wilkins came under suspicion of leaking atomic secrets. The files, released in August 2010, indicate surveillance of Wilkins ended by 1953. "After the war I wondered what I would do, as I was very disgusted with the dropping of two bombs on civilian centres in Japan," he told Britain's Encounter radio program in 1999.


A plaque commemorating Maurice Wilkins and his discovery, beneath the monument, Pongaroa, New Zealand In 1960 he was presented with the American Public Health Association's Albert Lasker Award, and in 1962 he was made a Commander of the British Empire. Also in 1962 he shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Watson and Crick for the discovery of the structure of DNA.

On Saturday 20 October 1962 the award of Nobel prizes to John Kendrew and Max Perutz, and to Crick, Watson, and Wilkins was satirised in a short sketch in the BBC TV programme That Was The Week That Was with the Nobel Prizes being referred to as 'The Alfred Nobel Peace Pools.'

In 1969, Wilkins became the founding President of the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science.

In 2000, King's College London opened the Franklin-Wilkins Building in honour of Dr. Franklin's and Professor Wilkins' work at the college.

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Maurice Wilkins, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1962's Timeline

December 15, 1916
Pongaroa, Tararua District, Manawatu-Wanganui, New Zealand
October 5, 2004
Age 87
London, United Kingdom