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Other interests: Old coins and history


Other interests: Egyptology and literature
Aaron Klug Scientist
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Well, science, although it's been the major part of my work, isn't the only thing I'm interested in. I think I did say earlier on I was interested in ancient history and ancient cultures. I mentioned Egyptology. I think the Egyptology had an attraction because it has puzzles in it, deciphering languages and things of that sort, so I guess part of my interest in science is because it does present puzzles and problems to solve. But at least they are problems of great importance, or one hopes of importance, or would lead to important things, although that wasn't the original reason. It was all just pure curiosity.

But I have always been interested in literature. I read a lot as a young man. Durban had a good library, and I... of course, we didn't have all that many books at home. I read... I read, of course, all of the adventure stories and so on, but all along I did read what you might call relatively serious books. When I was at school I read quite a lot of the work, A Dominie's Log and so on, about AS Neill who was the man who started experimental schools and I was quite impressed by that, and we had a small group who thought how different it was from our relatively regime at Durban Boys High School which was run on absolutely fixed lines, but this was a sort of youthful protest. I began reading... I read relatively serious literature. I read a couple of Dickens, George Eliot, because there wasn't a great deal to do in Durban. You did go to the bush, there was the bush, and the beach which I mentioned, but it wasn't a... there wasn't a lot of distraction. I didn't play any sport other than that I did at school, although I played in the afternoons. We played cricket in the local park. But I didn't have any hobbies really, other than making model aeroplanes out of wood and greaseproof paper. So I read a lot, and I read a lot of history mostly, and in more recent years it's mostly been ancient history. I read the classics, translation of Dostoevsky, Turgenev, say, the great Russian classics, and I've read the Germans, I read Thomas Mann, and when I learnt some Germany I read a bit of German poems, Goethe, and Rilke and people like that. I couldn't ever do anything with Holderlin, that was too romantic or too advanced for me, but I was pretty influenced by reading Prometheus by Goethe, Hier sitz ich, forme Menschen, Nach meinem Bilde, you know it at all?

[Q] No.

Oh, you ought to read it. It's one of... the most humanistic poem ever. It's about reaction to the Gotter – Götter, you know, with the gods, and... he likens them to a boy, a random boy, Der Disteln köpft, who knocks off the heads of the thistles, you see. This is... we are at the mercy of these gods who influence our lives and this is a protest by Goethe that this is not so, you see. And this is man exerting himself, it's humanist. Because Prometheus, if you remember, stole fire from the gods and was punished for it. So I could read a bit of that. I couldn't read... I really... I really lacked, because I lacked French and real German. I couldn't really read the European classics in their own language, but I did read in translation. And when I... I read a good deal of ancient history, right throughout.

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: A Dominie's Log, Durban Boys High School, Prometheus, Hier sitz ich, forme Menschen, Nach meinem Bilde, AS Neill, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Duration: 4 minutes, 15 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008