Francis Crick, DNA Pioneer and English Gentleman, Dies

By Steve Connor Science Editor | The Independent (London, England), July 3, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Francis Crick, DNA Pioneer and English Gentleman, Dies

Steve Connor Science Editor, The Independent (London, England)

TRIBUTES WERE paid yesterday to Francis Crick, the British scientist and DNA pioneer who died at his home in California on Tuesday after a long battle with cancer. He was 88.

Crick shared the Nobel Prize in 1962 with James Watson, with whom he made the most momentous discovery in modern biology. He and Watson were working at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge when, in 1953, they realised that the DNA molecule consisted of a double helix, a structure that opened up an explanation for the inheritance of genes.

Watson was seen as the brash young American, but Crick was the quintessential English gentleman, although he was radical enough never to accept the knighthood both were offered. Watson, a former head of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, New York, said: "I will always remember Francis for his extraordinarily focused intelligence and for the many ways he showed me kindness and developed my self-confidence.

"He treated me as though I were a member of his family. Being with him for two years in a small room in Cambridge was truly a privilege. I always looked forward to being with him and speaking to him, up until the moment of his death. He will be sorely missed."

In addition to a Nobel Prize, Crick had a string of academic achievements. He became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1959 and won the Copley Medal in 1975, the Royal Society's premier scientific award.

Lord May of Oxford, the president of the Royal Society, said yesterday: "Francis Crick made an enormous contribution to science and his discoveries helped to usher in a golden age of molecular biology. His death is a sad loss to science."

Crick, whom Watson had once jokingly described as a man never known to be in a modest mood, was, in fact, a self-effacing man who did not court publicity. In his later years, he moved from Cambridge to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, investigating the nature of human consciousness.

Richard Murphy, the Salk's president, said Crick will be remembered as one of the most brilliant and influential scientists of all time. "He will be missed a gentleman, a role model and a person who has contributed so much to our understanding of biology and the health of mankind," Dr Murphy said. Crick realised human consciousness was perhaps the biggest outstanding mystery of life on Earth.

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