Francis Crick (1916-2004)

James Watson (left) and Francis Crick (right) with their model of DNA, 1953.

James Watson (left) and Francis Crick (right) with their model of DNA, 1953.

Credits:James D Watson Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives

Francis Crick discovered the structure of DNA in partnership with James Watson. He was born in 1916 in Northampton, and was fascinated with science from childhood. He graduated with a degree in physics from University College London, but his postgraduate research in physics was interrupted by the Second World War, and he never completed his PhD.

During the war, Crick worked for the Admiralty Research Laboratory; among other things, he contributed to the design of a new type of mine for the Royal Navy. After the war, like many other physicists, Crick turned to the life sciences.

In 1949 he joined the Medical Research Council Unit at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. There he met his future collaborator James Watson. The two researchers used X-ray diffraction studies by Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins to build the double-helix model of the molecular structure of DNA. They published this structure in 1953, along with their theory for the way DNA replicates.

In 1962, Crick, Watson and Wilkins received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discovery.

Crick moved to California in 1977, taking up a post at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, where he remained for the rest of his life. He focused on neurobiology, in particular the role of neurons in consciousness.