Wilkins, Maurice Hugh Frederick

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Wilkins, Maurice Hugh Frederick

Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins, 1916–2004, British biophysicist, b. New Zealand, Ph.D. Univ. of Birmingham, 1940. He conducted research at the Univ. of St. Andrews, Scotland, and at Kings College, the Univ. of London (from 1946 until his death). In Berkeley, Calif., he worked (1944) for the Manhattan Project on the separation of uranium isotopes for use in atomic bombs. Shortly thereafter, he discontinued his research in nuclear physics to concentrate on problems in molecular biology, particularly the structure of DNA (see nucleic acid). In the early 1950s Wilkins successfully extracted some fibers from a gel of DNA, and began photographing them using X-ray diffraction, but his best sample was passed to another researcher, Rosalind Franklin. On the basis of X-ray photographs prepared by her laboratory that appeared to show a helical molecular structure and from other scientific information, F. H. C. Crick and J. D. Watson built a model of the DNA molecule and explained its function. For their work the three men shared the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

See his autobiography (2003).

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