James Watson was an American molecular biologist and was a highly awarded champion of physiology and medicine. He shared a Nobel Prize with British biophysicists Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins for their discovery of deoxyribonucleic acid, also known as DNA.
1. A Very Smart Child
Watson was born in Chicago and was a very intelligent boy. When he was 12 years old, he was on the show Quiz Kid, which was a popular radio show that challenged kids to think about and answer tough questions. He enrolled at the University of Chicago when he was just 15 years old.
2. Love of Animals
He shared a love of animals and nature with his father. James studied zoology and ornithology and was very interested in birds.
3. Studying Genetics
He graduated in 1947 and then attended Indiana University to complete his graduate work after being turned down by Harvard University and the California Institute of Technology. He was originally going to study ornithology but changed his mind and decided to study genetics.
4. What Is Life?
Watson’s decision to study genetics and genes was influenced by the popular and famous book, What is Life? The book was written about genes and heredity by an Austrian physicist and Nobel Laureate named Erwin Schrödinger. He became increasingly interested in genetics and studied at Indiana under two other Nobel laureates; Herman Muller and Salvador Luria.
5. National Research Council in Copenhagen, Denmark
Watson was very interested in the microscopic world and studied the effect of x- rays on bacteriophage replication. His doctoral thesis was on the same topic and he received his Ph.D. in 1950. After graduating, he traveled across Europe and did further study abroad. He worked with the National Research Council in Copenhagen, Denmark.
6. Studying DNA
When Watson was attending a symposium at King’s College in London, he was shown an x-ray diffraction image of DNA and decided to change his focus of study once again. He wanted to learn about and study the structural chemistry and makeup of DNA and knew that understanding this molecule would help him better understand genetics in general.
7. Working Together and Solo
While he was at Cambridge, Watson met Francis Crick who was working on some studies about protein structure. They were both very interested in studying the structure of the DNA molecule and worked together from 1951 to 1953. They pursued their own individual research while they were working together and got along quite well.
8. 3-Dimensional DNA Model
Together, Watson and Crick developed a 3 dimensional model of the DNA molecule. The model showed that there was a spiral of two complementary strands that were twisted together to form the famous double helix of DNA. One of the most famous photographs in the medical world is that of them both standing together holding a model of DNA as they interpreted it from the x-ray diffraction images taken of it by Rosalind Franklin. The double helix design is a very important symbol and icon to the molecular biology field and is recognized all over the world. It’s quite possible that the model of DNA is the most famous molecule representation of all time.
|9. Announcing Their Discovery
Watson and Crick announced their discovery of the model to the British science journal entitled Nature in April of 1953. It helped scientists all over the world to understand and describe living organisms according to their internal structure and makeup and the interaction of the molecules in the body.
10. Director of the Human Genome Project
Between the years of 1988 to 1992, Watson directed the Human Genome Project for the National Institutes of Health. He had a very long and successful career and many of the assumptions made today in many scientific fields are based on theories that he proposed and on the Watson-Crick model.