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The Discovery of DNA

Afternoon Lecture/Seminar

Friday, October 29, 2021 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1J0132
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James Watson and Francis Crick’s 1953 discovery of the double helix structure of DNA is the foundation of virtually every advance in our modern understanding of genetics and molecular biology. But how did Watson and Crick do it—and why were they the ones who succeeded?

In truth, the discovery of DNA’s structure is the story of five towering minds in pursuit of the advancement of science, and for almost all of them, the prospect of fame and immortality: Watson, Crick, Rosalind Franklin, Maurice Wilkins, and Linus Pauling. Howard Markel, professor of the history of medicine, University of Michigan, examines the intense intellectual journey, and fraught personal relationships, that ultimately led to a spectacular breakthrough. In a vibrant evocation of Cambridge in the 1950s, Markel also provides colorful depictions of Watson and Crick—their competitiveness, idiosyncrasies, and youthful immaturity—and compelling portraits of Wilkins, Pauling, and most cogently, Rosalind Franklin. Franklin—fiercely determined, relentless, and an outsider as the lone Jewish woman among young male scientists—whose story in this landmark discovery is often overlooked, is finally given her due.

Markel provides a fascinating look at how science is done, how reputations are undone, and how history is written, and revised.

His new book, The Secret of Life: Rosalind Franklin, James Watson, Francis Crick, and the Discovery of DNA's Double Helix (W. W. Norton) is available for purchase.

Book Sale Information

  • Purchase your copy of The Secret of Life by Howard Markel here.
  • SPECIAL NOTE: Politics and Prose is offering a 10% discount to Smithsonian Associates ticket-holders. To claim your discount, enter the code SPECIAL10 (no space between letters and numbers) in the “Coupon discount” section on Politics and Prose's check-out page.

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Inside Science

This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.