a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


The influence of my wife Liebe and my parents


Influences and heroes
Aaron Klug Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

I suppose the really first influence I had was RW James in Cape Town. He was a... he became an FRS later, rather late, but he was a... first class scientist and he brought the... what you might loosely call 'the English empirical system' and also 'the Cambridge system' into Cape Town, to Cape Town University, and he also... taught me a... not taught me, but we had experiments on optics of an unusual classical kind, and so I learnt about coherence, Birefringence, and things like that, all of which teach you something. And of course, he also introduced me to X-ray crystallography, and that's what a large part of my later work was based upon, X-ray crystallography. I also learned there... I suppose I learned from him that I could do a project and even do things like build apparatus and so on, learn how to measure intensities, all small things but things like that.

And then going into Cambridge, I had very little influence from my Supervisor [Douglas] Hartree didn't really... the subject, and I went to a lot of lectures and sat in on different things, and I learnt quite a lot of mathematics, I learnt more mathematics. But I think the person who influenced me the most was originally Rosalind Franklin, and what she taught me I guess was the importance of tackling important problems, even difficult and long term problems. I say she taught me, it was by example and so I was very lucky to find her. Luck is terribly important in all this. People say you should choose your mentors, but you can't choose your mentors, because you can't just say, 'I want to come and be your disciple.' It doesn't work like that. I was lucky to find an RW James, Reginald William James... in Cape Town, lucky to find Rosalind Franklin at Birkbeck, though I didn't go there... lucky to have a disagreement with Harry Carlisle... you know that was sort of educational... when I learnt.

And then later on, Francis Crick, of course, and he's probably the... I don't know if he's the biggest influence because I'm not like him, but he... I did watch, I think I said earlier, watch how he went about problems and the kind of excitement that he... he had great powers of concentration. He could concentrate for six to eight hours on a subject. I also learnt from him... Newton could do 22 hours, by the way, so he wasn't Newton. But the... that you had to keep things in your mind for a long time, I think I learnt it from him. And one way of keeping things in your mind is to read papers on the subject, even if they're not good papers. Francis used to say to me, he read all these papers on chromatin. I said, 'Look, they're horrible papers.' He said, 'You never know where you might find some kind of slight observation or some anomaly or something of that sort which might help us.' I don't think he ever found one, but what it did was to concentrate your mind on the subject over many weeks, months, and even years.

And I can't think of any... I have, I have sometimes been asked who my scientific heroes are. But that's different, who your scientific heroes are. But if you ask that question as well, Crick would be one of them. And I don't think there's been any others, any other big influences. Bernal I thought could have been an influence, but he never... Bernal, I learnt also... I did learn from Bernal, and from Bernal I learnt what he didn't do, which was to attend to the details. That's also learning. Bernal, although he had suggested many things, he never stuck and looked at the details of any of the processes. He wasn't like that, whereas Francis who had a mind at least, if not greater, than Bernal's actually read all the small print, all the boring stuff, and so on, and not always with much profit.

Born in Lithuania, Aaron Klug (1926-2018) was a British chemist and biophysicist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1982 for developments in electron microscopy and his work on complexes of nucleic acids and proteins. He studied crystallography at the University of Cape Town before moving to England, completing his doctorate in 1953 at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1981, he was awarded the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University. His long and influential career led to a knighthood in 1988. He was also elected President of the Royal Society, and served there from 1995-2000.

Listeners: Ken Holmes John Finch

Kenneth Holmes was born in London in 1934 and attended schools in Chiswick. He obtained his BA at St Johns College, Cambridge. He obtained his PhD at Birkbeck College, London working on the structure of tobacco mosaic virus with Rosalind Franklin and Aaron Klug. After a post-doc at Childrens' Hospital, Boston, where he started to work on muscle structure, he joined to the newly opened Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge where he stayed for six years. He worked with Aaron Klug on virus structure and with Hugh Huxley on muscle. He then moved to Heidelberg to open the Department of Biophysics at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research where he remained as director until his retirement. During this time he completed the structure of tobacco mosaic virus and solved the structures of a number of protein molecules including the structure of the muscle protein actin and the actin filament. Recently he has worked on the molecular mechanism of muscle contraction. He also initiated the use of synchrotron radiation as a source for X-ray diffraction and founded the EMBL outstation at DESY Hamburg. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1981 and is a member of a number of scientific academies.

John Finch is a retired member of staff of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK. He began research as a PhD student of Rosalind Franklin's at Birkbeck College, London in 1955 studying the structure of small viruses by x-ray diffraction. He came to Cambridge as part of Aaron Klug's team in 1962 and has continued with the structural study of viruses and other nucleoproteins such as chromatin, using both x-rays and electron microscopy.

Tags: Cape Town University, Douglas Hartree, RW James, Rosalind Franklin, Harry Carlisle, Francis Crick

Duration: 4 minutes, 51 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008