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My work on steel helped with accelerating the growth of TMV


Finding work at Cambridge
Aaron Klug Scientist
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When I came to Cambridge...

[Q] Who did you contact?

[Lawrence] Bragg was the... Bragg was the connection with [RW] James, you see, from the old days. So Bragg... I... I thought... I wanted to do something in the structure of matter but something unusual not straightforward crystallography and one of the things I thought of joining was the MRC Unit, which I'd heard of because there was correspondence between Bragg and James, which was something they told me about; the wonderful things they're doing at the MRC, what they might be able to do at the MRC. And I remember a letter in which Bragg wrote to James and he said, 'When I have Kendrew... Kendrew has now got good crystals of myoglobin', so this was a stable companion to the haemoglobin which Perutz was working on which was proving difficult. And so, Bragg said, 'We probably have a good choice here, being able to compare the two structures', I remember very clearly. So I asked Bragg, Bragg said the unit was full, now to this day I don't know whether that's true or not. I have a feeling it's not, I think they, either I wasn't regarded as reliable or there'd been somebody from Cape Town several years before me who turned out to be a dud and maybe they thought that James's recommendation was faulty. So Bragg wanted me to work, I said I'd be happy to work on alloys, order-disorder phenomenon in alloys, uphill diffusion and so on, but Bragg said they were shutting that down, a man called Hargreaves was on... And what he wanted me to do, he was trying to direct me to work on silicates, order-disorder in silicates and I didn't... I didn't find that interesting. I think I would now, but, I didn't have enough... didn't know enough to know that was a fascinating problem, but just as well.

And so, I spent six weeks when I first was in Cambridge... letters would take two weeks because the boat... there was no airmail and the... the ship took two weeks from Southampton to Cape Town, and there were no... no telephones, so for six weeks I was hanging around wondering what to do, but, James had said, 'Go and see my old Manchester colleagues', they were the whole Manchester mafia in Cambridge. There was [John] Lennard-Jones, Professor of Chemistry, theoretical chemistry; there was [Douglas] Hartree, Professor of Mathematical Physics and I went to see them both. And I'd actually done some work on quantum chemistry, I actually calculated the bond lengths it's quite... if you know some quantum mechanics you can teach yourself, the molecular orbitals and valence bond theory and I'd calculated it. So I was... he offered me a PhD and it would support in the chemistry. But Hartree was the one whom I decided to work with because he had a problem, which he thought he wanted a crystallographer, it was problem in the phase transitions in steel, during the curing of steel, a problem left over from the war. I think I'd better not talk too much about it but it was a... it would take too long... it was a... led nowhere but I learnt a great deal. First of all I learnt to compute originally by hand with a Brunswig and later I used EDSAC, I was one of the first users of EDSAC, which was the first process control with a store unit, it was really the first of its kind. And I do remember on one night, because you could compute at night when there was less pressure on it, and meeting John Kendrew, or rather John Kendrew's wife bringing him some... thermos flask and sandwiches to last the night. Yes. It was quite a romance, you see, I wasn't a nerd, like there were these guys, these computer guys whom we now call nerds, they weren't called that in those days but they would hang around all night and sleep during the day, John Kendrew wasn't. But, that was the... it was quite fun; we had... it was all done with paper tapes and so on and I learnt a great deal. But, I was solving partial differential equations together with chemical change.

[Q] And there was no time chain with either one of you was using the machine or the other.

No, no, you could use... no, on EDSAC?

[Q] Yes.

Oh, no, no time... you had to wait, your tapes had to... you had to get into a queue and then you had to run your tapes. And you also had... in those days you had what we call post-mortem tapes, so, if something went wrong you could interrogate the contents of the store, so it was all quite interesting.

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: Cambridge, John Kendrew, Lawrence Bragg, Douglas Hartree, RW James, John Lennard-Jones

Duration: 4 minutes, 38 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008