Crick, Francis (Harry Compton) 1916-2004

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CRICK, Francis (Harry Compton) 1916-2004


See index for CA sketch: Born June 8, 1916, in Northampton, England; died of colon cancer, July 28, 2004, in San Diego, CA. Biologist, researcher, and author. Crick will be remembered forever as the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who was the codiscoverer of the double-helix structure of the DNA molecule. After graduating from University College, London, in 1937 with a degree in physics, and attending graduate school there for two years, he designed mines for the British Admiralty during World War II until 1947. Always interested in biology, he decided to enter the research world, joining the Strangeways Institute at Cambridge as a cell biology researcher, then moving on to the Cavendish Laboratory in 1949, which later became the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology. Crick worked at the laboratory while studying for his doctorate, which he received from Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, in 1954. Even before earning his Ph.D., however, Crick would make his landmark discovery in collaboration with American scientist J. D. Watson and with the help of X-ray images by Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin. Crick and Watson focused their research on the DNA—deoxyribonucleic acid—molecule, eventually unraveling the mystery behind how its structure was used to form codes that were then chemically translated into the proteins that make life possible. Their discovery was announced in a 1953 issue of Nature magazine, and in 1962 Crick, Watson, and Wilkins received the Nobel for their efforts (Franklin had died of ovarian cancer before then). The discovery of how DNA works gave birth to a storm of research in genetics, which has, in turn, led to advancements in everything from genetic engineering to forensic science. Crick also helped the science of genetics in researching how chemical "adaptors" and amino acids work with regard to how proteins are made and how they function. Crick, who was made codirector of the Cell Biology Division at his laboratory in 1961, left England in 1977 to join the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. Here he was named J. W. Kieckhefer Distinguished Research Professor, a position he held until his death. By the late 1960s, however, Crick had left genetics behind to tackle an even more difficult problem: he wished to discover the biological causation of human consciousness. Crick maintained that consciousness does not have a spiritual basis but instead would eventually be explained as a function of the way the nervous system worked, a hypothesis he would later write about in his 1994 book, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul. Crick was also the author of Of Molecules and Men (1966), Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature (1981), and What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery (1988). At the time of his death, he was editing a manuscript for a new book.



Chicago Tribune, July 30, 2004, section 1, pp. 1, 30.

Los Angeles Times, July 30, 2004, pp. A1, A26.

New York Times, July 30, 2004, p. A1.

Times (London, England), p. 38.

Washington Post, July 30, 2004, pp. A1, A4.