Wilkins, Maurice Hugh Frederick

Wilkins, Maurice Hugh Frederick

Wilkins, Maurice Hugh Frederick, 1916-2004, British biophysicist, b. New Zealand, Ph.D. Univ. of Birmingham, 1940. He conducted research at the Univ. of St. Andrews, Scotland, and at Kings College, the Univ. of London (from 1946 until his death). In Berkeley, Calif., he worked (1944) for the Manhattan Project on the separation of uranium isotopes for use in atomic bombs. Shortly thereafter, he discontinued his research in nuclear physics to concentrate on problems in molecular biology, particularly the structure of DNA (see nucleic acid). In the early 1950s Wilkins successfully extracted some fibers from a gel of DNA, and began photographing them using X-ray diffraction, but his best sample was passed to another researcher, Rosalind Franklin. On the basis of X-ray photographs prepared by her laboratory that appeared to show a helical molecular structure and from other scientific information, F. H. C. Crick and J. D. Watson built a model of the DNA molecule and explained its function. For their work the three men shared the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

See his autobiography (2003).

(born Dec. 15, 1916, Pongaroa, N.Z.—died Oct. 6, 2004, London, Eng.) New Zealand-born British biophysicist. Educated in Birmingham and Cambridge, he participated in the Manhattan Project, working on the separation of uranium isotopes for use in the atomic bomb. On his return to Britain, he began a series of investigations that led ultimately to his studies of DNA. His X-ray diffraction studies of DNA proved crucial to the determination of DNA's molecular structure by James D. Watson and Francis Crick, for which the three were awarded a 1962 Nobel Prize. He later applied X-ray diffraction techniques to the study of RNA. Seealso Rosalind Franklin.

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