Category Archives: History

60th anniversary of “the secret of life”

Double Helix

60 years ago today, Nature published an article by Francis Crick and James Watson. It was titled, “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid”. Finally, someone had figured out the structure of DNA. That alone was a worthy achievement, after the years of work put into it. But far more importantly, the structure suggested that DNA could be the genetic material of organisms… it could be how genetic information is passed from one cell to its daughter cells, from one organism to its offspring.

After describing how the base pairs link up in a predictable way (adenine with thymine, guanine with cytosine), the authors wrote what would become the highlight of one of the most famous academic papers of all time, and possibly one of the best examples of arrogant false modesty:

“It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material”.

The rest is history. The genetic code. The Human Genome Project. Blatant sexism in science. You’ll probably be reading a lot about these as we hit the 60th anniversary of the paper. It’s a story worth revisiting, or enjoying for the first time. The work by Watson and Crick is a fantastic story because it involves scientists standing on the shoulders of giants, taking the results of other scientists’ experiments and piecing them together, and answering a huge scientific question with a simple explanation. At the same time, the story of this discovery demonstrates that scientists are people, for better or worse.

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He went in peace for all mankind

Bruce McCandless: “Okay. Neil, we can see you coming down the ladder now.”

Neil Armstrong: “Okay. I just checked getting back to that first step. Buzz. It’s not even collapsed too far, but it’s adequate to get back up.”

Bruce McCandless: “Roger. We copy.”

Neil Armstrong: “It takes a pretty good little jump.”

Bruce McCandless: “Buzz, this is Houston. F/2-1/160th second for shadow photography on the sequence camera.”

Buzz Aldrin: “Okay.”

Neil Armstrong: “I’m at the foot of the ladder. The LM footpads are only depressed in the surface about 1 or 2 inches, although the surface appears to be very, very fine grained, as you get close to it. It’s almost like a powder. Down there, it’s very fine.”

“I’m stepping off the LM now.”

“That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Continue reading He went in peace for all mankind

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Japan at the British Museum

Today I visited the British Museum with my trusty iPad and took a few photos.

Continue reading Japan at the British Museum

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