James D Watson (b. 1928)

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

James D Watson discovered the structure of DNA in partnership with Francis Crick. Watson had been an enthusiastic amateur zoologist and a gifted student - he enrolled at the University of Chicago at the age of 15 to study zoology. However, his attention turned from zoology to genetics, and as a postgraduate student Watson joined the research group of Salvador Luria (1912-91), an important microbiologist and later a Nobel Prize winner.

Watson met Francis Crick at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, where he worked from 1951 until 1953. At Cambridge, the two researchers used X-ray diffraction studies by Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins to establish the double-helix model of the molecular structure of DNA. In 1962 Watson, Crick and Wilkins received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for this discovery. From 1968 to 2007, Watson was the Director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the United States.