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The book that most influenced me


Discovering science
Francis Crick Scientist
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I don’t think things necessarily appeared to me mysterious because in a certain sense to a child everything is commonplace and mysterious at the same time. You know, they accept it and yes there's something… it's sort of there and yet it has strange properties, you see. I think what appealed to me was when I… it was… I read that there were explanations at a different level which would explain some of these properties. I didn’t ask myself, you know, what happens when water melts? Or something like that. But I read what happens when water melts and I thought, isn’t that surprising. You can describe it in that particular way.

[Q] Ice?

Yes… I am sorry, when ice melts, I beg your pardon, yes. So… so that… one… if you… if you… if I read about how ice melts I would then look at the phenomenon in nature and think isn’t it interesting you can explain it in that particular way. But I don’t think I posed the question, what happens when one goes from the other? There were just so many things in the world which did this and did that and it was the realisation that they could be explained in a more uniform and simplifying way that I… I found very appealing, as I think most people do if they have… if it isn’t made difficult for them and if it’s something they… certainly… it’s… it helps if it’s something they puzzled about. But, there are, after all, some very surprising things, I mean, who would have thought that light and heat and x-rays and radio waves were simply all electromagnetic radiation of different wave length? They all look… have a totally different character, but, in fact, that… physics tells us that’s not true. It’s just… just that… that some of them are very high frequency and some of them are much lower frequency and they all travel at the speed of light, in a vacuum anyway. So, again, those are the great… some of the great unifying principals of science which are not the ones that you get from ordinary common sense, shall we say. I mean you can know about radio waves and you can know about light without realising there was any connection between the two.

The late Francis Crick, one of Britain's most famous scientists, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. He is best known for his discovery, jointly with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins, of the double helix structure of DNA, though he also made important contributions in understanding the genetic code and was exploring the basis of consciousness in the years leading up to his death in 2004.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: childhood, x-ray, radio wave, electromagnetic radiation, physics, speed of light

Duration: 2 minutes, 17 seconds

Date story recorded: 1993

Date story went live: 24 January 2008