James D. Watson biography
Born on April 6, 1928, in Chicago, Illinois, James D. Watson worked at the University of Copenhagen and the Cavendish Laboratory before formulating the theory of a double-helix structure for DNA along with Francis Crick. Watson received a 1962 Nobel Prize and went on to do work in cancer research and mapping the human genome. He later came under fire for several controversial remarks on subjects ranging from obesity to race-based intelligence.
James Dewey Watson was born in Chicago, Illinois, on April 6, 1928, and spent his childhood there, attending Horace Mann Grammar School and South Shore High School before winning a scholarship to the University of Chicago and enrolling at age 15. In 1947, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology and then went on to attend Indiana University in Bloomington, where he received his Ph.D. in zoology in 1950. His Ph.D. thesis was a study of the effect of hard X-rays on bacteriophage multiplication, and he became interested in the work of scientists working at the University of Cambridge with photographic patterns made by X-rays.
At the University of Copenhagen, James D. Watson began his investigation of the structure of DNA, and, in the spring of 1951, he went to the Zoological Station at Naples, where he met Maurice Wilkins and saw for the first time crystalline DNA's X-ray diffraction pattern. That fall, Watson moved his research to the University of Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory, where he continued his work with X-rays, learning diffraction techniques. He also met Francis Crick, who shared his interest in puzzling out the structure of DNA. The pair began their historic work soon after.
Crick's and Watson's first serious effort toward learning the structure of DNA came up short, but their second attempt, concluded in the spring of 1953, resulted in the pair putting forth the double-helical configuration, which resembles a twisting ladder. Their model also showed how the DNA molecule could duplicate itself, thus answering one of the constant fundamental questions in the field of genetics. Watson and Crick published their findings in the British journal Nature in April-May 1953 to great acclaim.
Academia and Beyond
In 1955, Watson moved on to Harvard University (1955-76), where he taught biology for 15 years and conducted research. While there, he published Molecular Biology of the Gene, which would go on to become one of the most extensively used biology texts.
In 1968, Watson took the reins of the Laboratory of Quantitative Biology at Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, New York, transforming it into a global hub of molecular biology research over the following decades. Continuing his illustrious career, from 1988 to 1992, Watson was one of the directors of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health, where he oversaw the mapping of the genes in the human chromosomes (his own genome was sequenced in 2007, making him the second person to have this done).
As 2007 wore on, however, Watson saw his reputation tarnished by controversial statements he made regarding the intelligence of Africans and assumptions he had made about intellectual differences between geographically separated peoples.
These were not the first statements Watson had ever made to raise eyebrows, but they forced him to resign from Cold Spring Harbor. Soon after, he formally announced his retirement.
Over the course of his long career, James D. Watson has been honored numerous times, taking home the John Collins Warren Prize of the Massachusetts General Hospital (1959, with Crick), the Lasker Award (1960, with Crick and Maurice Wilkins) and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1962, with Crick and Wilkins), among others. Additionally, he is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences and the Danish Academy of Arts and Sciences.