Sir Isaac Newton once declared that his momentous discoveries were only made thanks to having 'stood on the shoulders of giants'. The same might also be said of the scientists James Watson and Francis Crick. Their discovery of the structure of DNA was, without doubt, one of the biggest scientific landmarks in history and, thanks largely to the success of Watson's best-selling memoir 'The Double Helix', there might seem to be little new to say about this story.
But much remains to be said about the particular 'giants' on whose shoulders Watson and Crick stood. Of these, the crystallographer Rosalind Franklin, whose famous X-ray diffraction photograph known as 'Photo 51' provided Watson and Crick with a vital clue, is now well recognised. Far less well known is the physicist William T. Astbury who, working at Leeds in the 1930s on the structure of wool for the local textile industry, pioneered the use of X-ray crystallography to study biological
fibres. In so doing, he not only made the very first studies of the structure of DNA culminating in a photo almost identical to Franklin's 'Photo 51', but also founded the new science of 'molecular biology'.
Yet whilst Watson and Crick won the Nobel Prize, Astbury has largely been forgotten. The Man in the Monkeynut Coat tells the story of this neglected pioneer, showing not only how it was thanks to him that Watson and Crick were not left empty-handed, but also how his ideas transformed biology leaving a legacy which is still felt today.
Kersten Hall graduated from St. Anne's College, Oxford, with BA Honours in Biochemistry before completing a PhD at the University of Leeds on the regulation of human genes by viruses. He then worked as a research fellow in molecular biology in the School of Medicine, University of Leeds. During this time he cultivated a growing interest in the history of science and is now a Visiting Fellow in the School of Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science at the University of Leeds where his research focuses on the history of genetics and molecular biology. He lives in Leeds with his wife and two sons.
1. A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words ; 2. Germany Has Much to Teach us ; 3. A Keen Young Man ; 4. Into the Wilderness ; 5. The X-Ray Vatican ; 6. A Pile of Pennies ; 7. Avery's Bombshell ; 8. Nunc Dimittis ; 9. One Grand Leap ... Too Far ; 10. The Road Not Taken ; 11. The Man in the Monkeynut Coat