Childhood & Early Life
Francis Harry Compton Crick was born on 8 June 1916, in Northampton to Harry and Annie Elizabeth Crick. His father and uncle ran the family’s boot and shoe factory.
He attended the Northampton Grammar School, and at age of 14 shifted to Mill Hill School in London on scholarship and studied mathematics, physics, and chemistry with his best friend John Shilston.
In 1937, he graduated in physics from University College London. As a PhD student and Honorary Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, he worked at the Cavendish Laboratory.
His Ph.D. project on measuring viscosity of water at high temperatures was ruined, when a WWII bomb fell on his apparatus. During his second year as a PhD student, Crick was awarded the Carey Foster Research Prize.
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During World War II, he worked for the Admiralty Research Laboratory on the design of magnetic and acoustic mines, and was instrumental in designing a new mine that was effective against German minesweepers.
In 1947, Crick moved to the Strangeways Laboratory, Cambridge, headed by Honor Bridget Fell, with a Medical Research Council studentship, and studied the physical properties of cytoplasm in cultured fibroblast cells.
In 1949, he joined the Medical Research Unit at Cavendish Laboratory under the general direction of Nobel Prize winner Sir Lawrence Bragg and obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge five years later.
James Watson, a young American appeared at the lab in 1951, and he and Crick formed a collaborative working relationship unraveling the mysteries of the structure of DNA.
Using X-ray diffraction studies of DNA, in 1953, the two researchers constructed a molecular model, representing the known properties of DNA, consisting of two intertwined spiral strands referred to as the "double helix".
On Feb 28, 1953, James D. Watson and Frances H.C. Crick announced that they have determined the double-helix structure of DNA, the molecule containing human genes.
In 1956, Crick and Watson speculated on the structure of small viruses and suggested that spherical viruses such as Tomato bushy stunt virus had icosahedral symmetry and were made from 60 identical subunits.
In 1956, he proposed that there was a corresponding set of small "adaptor molecules" that would hydrogen-bond to short sequences of a nucleic acid, and also link to one of the amino acids.
In the early 1970s, Crick and Orgel (a British chemist), speculated living systems originated from molecules and spread by intelligent life forms using space travel technology, a process they called directed panspermia.
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In 1977, following a sabbatical year at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California , he left Cambridge to work there as a professor and taught himself neuroanatomy and neuroscience.
In 1983, Crick and Mitchison proposed that the function of REM sleep is to remove certain modes of interactions in networks of cells in the cerebral cortex; they called this 'reverse learning' or 'unlearning.
His 1988 published book ‘What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery’ provided insights into his works on the DNA structure, the Central Dogma of molecular biology, the genetic code and on neuroscience
In 1994, he published the book, The Astonishing Hypothesis about consciousness and places its study within a larger social context. Human consciousness, according to him is central to human existence.
Watson and Crick published a paper outlining their DNA double-helical structure in the scientific journal, Nature in 1953. Subsequent research led to an explanation of the process of replication of gene and the chromosome.
Crick in 1958 explained the central dogma of molecular biology, regarding the flow of genetic information within a biological system. Such information cannot be transferred back from protein to either protein or nucleic acid.
Awards & Achievements
He was awarded the Prix Charles Leopold Meyer of the French Academy of Sciences in 1961 which is awarded annually by the academy to researchers for outstanding work in the biological sciences.
He received the Award of Merit of the Gairdner Foundation in 1962 for outstanding discoveries or contributions to medical science. It is traditionally considered a precursor to winning the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
For discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material Crick, shared The Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1962 with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins.
He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and awarded the British Order of Merit in 1991. He had refused an offer of a CBE and of a knighthood.
The Francis Crick Institute is a £660,000,000 biomedical research centre currently under construction, in London. Once operational in 2015, it will be the biggest centre for biomedical research and innovation in Europe.
Personal Life & Legacy
Crick married Ruth Doreen Dodd and they had a son, Michael. In 1949 Crick married Odile Speed and had two daughters - Gabrielle and Jacqueline.
Skeptical of organized religion, he referred to himself as an agnostic with "a strong inclination towards atheism’. In ‘Of Molecules and Men’, he expressed his views on the relationship between science and religion.