Page URL:

DNA scientist Maurice Wilkins dies

7 October 2004
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 279

Maurice Wilkins, the scientist who shared a Nobel Prize with Francis Crick and James Watson for working out the structure of DNA, has died. Wilkins was awarded the prize in 1962, following his work at King's College London, in which he used X-ray techniques to show that the DNA molecule is a double helix. King's, where Wilkins was still a member of staff, said that the scientist died in hospital on 5 October, surrounded by his family.

Wilkins was born in New Zealand in 1916, and studied physics at St John's College, Cambridge in the UK. His autobiography, entitled 'The Third Man of the Double Helix', was published last year. In the 1950s, he worked at the Medical Research Council Biophysics Unit at Kings, where he developed the use of a technique called X-ray fibre diffraction. Along with Rosalind Franklin, who died in 1958, he used it to produce the images of crystallised DNA that were crucial to working out its structure.

'If it hadn't been for the X-ray data that resulted from Wilkins' work, Watson and Crick wouldn't have been able to pinpoint the structure of DNA', said UK developmental geneticist Robin Lovell-Badge. Science writer Matt Ridley also praised Wilkins' contribution: 'Maurice was a central figure in one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the twentieth century, but his extreme modesty allowed others to share the prize', he said.

Wilkins' death comes just two months after that of Francis Crick, who died aged 88 on 28 July. James Watson, the only scientist involved in the DNA work who is still living, said: 'Wilkins was a very intelligent scientist with a very deep personal concern that science be used to benefit society'. Before his work on the double helix, Wilkins worked in the US on the Manhattan Project, the scientific effort behind the atom bomb. He later became an active member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), and was also President of the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science for many years.

DNA pioneer dies aged 87
Nature News |  6 October 2004
DNA Pioneer Maurice Wilkins Dies at 88
Yahoo Daily News |  6 October 2004
Maurice Wilkins dies
The Scientist |  6 October 2004
Maurice Wilkins: Obituary
King's College London |  6 October 2004
Science mourns DNA pioneer Wilkins
BBC News Online |  6 October 2004
25 November 2013 - by Dr James Heather 
Fred Sanger, renowned biochemist, has died aged 95. Having pioneered seminal techniques for the understanding of both proteins and DNA, Dr Sanger is widely hailed as one of the most influential scientists of recent years...
30 July 2004 - by BioNews 
He has been described as 'the Charles Darwin of the 20th century' by Professor Steve Jones of University College London and as 'the dominant hero of the heroic age of molecular biology' by Professor Richard Dawkins of Oxford University. He was a Nobel prize winner, a Fellow of the Royal...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.