Skip to main content

Scientist of the Week 4: Francis Crick


Francis Crick born on the 8th June 1916 in Northampton, United Kingdom, graduated from UCL in 1937. During World War 2 he worked as a scientist for the Admiralty Research Laboratory, working on the design of magnetic and acoustic mines.

In 1940 Crick married Ruth Doreen Dodd. Their son, Michael F.C Crick is a scientist. They were divorced in 1947. In 1949 Crick married Odile Speed. They have two daughters, Gabrielle A. Crick and Jacqueline M.T. Crick.  The family lived in a house called the “The Golden Helix” appropriately named by Crick, and it made a good conversation topic with his friends.

In 1947 Crick made the transition from physics into biology, which he described as "almost as if one had to be born again." His early studies at Cambridge were supported by a studentship from the Medical Research Council (MRC).

In 1949 he joined the MRC Unit headed by Max Perutz, which subsequently became the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. During this period he worked on the X-ray crystallography of proteins, obtaining his PhD in 1954.

In the beginning of 1951 a new friendship started between Crick & James Watson (who was 23 at the time). They were both fascinated by the essential query of how genetic information could be stored in molecular form, leading in 1953 to the proposal of the double-helical structure for DNA. Crick then concentrated on the biological implications of the structure of the DNA molecule, developing further insights into the genetic code − including the so called “central dogma” describing the flow of information from DNA to RNA to protein. Crick was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1959.

Crick worked at the University of Cambridge for 30 years up until 1977. For the rest of his career, Crick continued to work in the Salk Institute for biological studies, in La Jolla, California, USA, and also a professor at the University of California, San Diego.

Francis Crick was celebrated for his intelligence, openness to new ideas, and his collaborations with scientists working in different fields of expertise.

Key Research:

After gaining his studentship in the MRC, in 1949, He became a research student for the second time in 1950, as a member of Caius College, Cambridge, and obtained a PhD in 1954 on a thesis entitled ‘X-ray diffraction: polypeptides and proteins’.

During this period, Crick was studying and devised a theory of X-ray diffraction by a helix at the same time Linus Pauling and Robert Corey suggested the alpha- keratin pattern was due to alpha-helices coiled around each other.

Watson & Cricks friendship blossomed in 1951, and in the year 1953 the duo proposed the structure of the double-helical structure of DNA and a theory for its replication. Subsequently they suggested a general theory for the structure of small viruses.

Crick, in collaboration with Alex Rich, has proposed structures for polyglycine II and collagen and (with Alex Rich, D R Davies, and James Watson) a structure for polyadenylic acid.

Later, in collaboration with Sydney Brenner, Crick focused more on biochemistry and genetics leading to ideas about protein synthesis (the ‘adaptor hypothesis’), and the genetic code.

Nobel Peace Prizes:

Francis Crick was awarded one-third of The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962 along with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins. All three were co-awarded the prize for their research on the identification of the structure of DNA and nucleic acids.

“Prize motivation:"for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material"