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

The role of King's College

Maurice Wilkins and DNA apparatusMaurice Wilkins and DNA apparatusOne of the most important contributions of Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin and their colleagues was in gradually and painstakingly improving the quality of pictures sufficient to allow the accurate measurement of angles and distances between atoms from which inferences as to the precise, possibly helical, architecture of the molecule might be obtained.

They did this in part by subtly and systematically adjusting the relative humidity of the samples of DNA and taking x-ray photographs of the so-called A configuration of the molecule.

Darkroom DNADarkroom DNAThe complex patterns of diffraction belied the underlying symmetry and comparative simplicity of the molecular framework of DNA.

However, diffraction studies alone were not sufficient to reveal exact molecular alignments that determined the double-helix: mathematical intuition, the insight of chemical analysis and model-building were necessary to construct a viable hypothetical that could be tested subsequently with follow-up x-ray analysis.

Ultimately, it was this collision and co-operation of methods and minds that unlocked the puzzle of heredity, the moment when the age-old potential of the DNA molecule to reveal its own structure was realised.

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