Narrator: Maurice Wilkins had worked as a physicist on the atom bomb during the war, and had
turned in disgust on what he felt was the way science had been misapplied, to biology.
With an interest in the gene kindled by reading a little book called What Is Life?, in which the theoretical physicist Erwin Schrödinger had speculated that the gene
consists of a three-dimensional arrangement of atoms, he found himself at the Kings
College, London, using x-ray diffraction to study the structure of DNA.
Maurice Wilkins: One of the reasons I think we got better diffraction results than Astbury, one of
the main reasons, was that we had better DNA made by Signer in Switzerland. This sort
of shows a basic principle here in scientific advance; that one was very dependent
on all the essential work that was done by chemists and biochemists. The x-ray and
model building work was a little sort of pinnacle, put on top of this wide and essential
Also an important factor was that I think we had a feeling of how to treat the molecule
right; that, as Bernal had found with protein crystals, you needed to keep them in
the aqueous environment. We also sort of lined the molecules up, especially parallel
I was in Naples actually, because I wanted to get DNA in real cells - in the chromosomes,
in the sperm heads of various creatures out of the Bay of Naples. At that time one
had very little idea about whether the DNA which chemists produced bore any resemblance
to the DNA in a chromosome in a cell. In fact, the x-ray diffraction results gave
good evidence that it did.