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Work with Rosalind Franklin


Work at Birkbeck and meeting Rosalind Franklin
Aaron Klug Scientist
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So I was banished upstairs and in the next-door room there was Rosalind Franklin, this was in the... this was now... I'd come in the September 1953, this would have been early February or something, January or February 1954, March. And I didn't know she was at Birkbeck at all. She had, of course, left after her work on DNA at Kings; she'd left Kings and gone to Birkbeck. But now they'd given her a home, she had her own Turner and all fellowships so she... of course, I had my own Fellowship too and I had the Nuffield Foundation Fellowship.

[Q] You knew of her work?

No... no... I knew of her work on DNA because I read all the DNA papers. Yes. And I was in Cambridge when the double helix was unveiled. Yeah. And I met Jim Watson there, only briefly, socially, so... you can't say you met Jim Watson socially because he's so... he's asocial, but, he... he... And of course, I saw the model. So I'd read all the papers, and so I knew who Rosalind was but, you see, she never came to tea in the department; there was tea across the road in the main building, in the Faculty Club or in the Staff Room.

[Q] Yes.

And downstairs in the basement of Torrington Square where we all worked, where Bernal's Research Department was, she never came, so I didn't know she existed actually. So, of course, once I met her and she showed me her pictures of... of Tobacco Mosaic Virus, and... after that it's history, you see, so... And I was very lucky to do this, all these things happened by chance. I sometimes wonder what I would have done if I hadn't had all these chance meetings and...

[Q] Yeah.

But I hope I would have done something.

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: Birkbeck College, James Watson, Rosalind Franklin

Duration: 1 minute, 53 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008