King's College London
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DNA: the King's story

The Biophysics unit at King's

Drinks in the Biophysics unitDrinks in the Biophysics unitIn 1946, a biophysics unit was established in collaboration with the Royal Society, bringing together biologists, biochemists and physicists. The Medical Research Council and Rockefeller Foundation joined the project in 1947.

New designs of spherical-mirror reflecting objectives and advanced interferometers delivered interference photographs of small-scale structures.

The primary objectives during the early years lay in enzyme research, crystalline bodies in cells and the dichromism and other characteristics shown by nucleic acids, but the Unit also achieved distinction for pioneering studies determining the sliding-filament mechanism of muscle contraction under the supervision of Professor Jean Hanson.

Photograph of King's Biophysics staff, 1952Photograph of King's Biophysics staff, 1952Unfashionably, Randall sustained a study on DNA using a broad range of techniques and approaches beginning with ultraviolet polarised light and microscopes.

At the time a majority of research elsewhere was targeted on protein, the other major component of chromosomes, as the part likely to carry the sought-after chemical information about the nature of the gene.

Biophysics unit at King'sBiophysics unit at King'sWilkins was appointed deputy and shortly after decided to focus on studying macromolecules isolated from cells rather than chromosomes in cells.

Under Randall's leadership, the Biophysics Unit quickly established a reputation for cross-disciplinary scholarship, and it attracted the cream of eager young researchers, including a number of women scientists and technicians.

Drinks parties, cricket matches and other social events were organised by Randall to encourage the sharing of ideas. This was generally very successful, although occasionally problems arose when the research teams failed to communicate with each other.

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