I think everybody is pretty familiar with the part in cop movies where the police chief tells the investigators, "You're off the case!"
James D. Watson has a similar kind of story in his book The Double Helix, the account of Watson's work with his colleague, Francis Crick, to discern the structure of deoxyribose nucleic acid, or DNA.
Nowadays DNA is just as familiar to everybody as cop movies are. DNA, like the Theory of Relativity, has become one of those ubiquitous scientific ideas. Everybody knows the double helix. Everybody knows that our genes make up who we are -- to some degree, at least. And everybody knows that our genes are made up of DNA.
But when Watson and Crick were working to discern what the structure of DNA was, many, if not most, scientists didn't even think DNA was very fundamental at all. Instead, scientists were trying to work out some kind of theory of protein as a basic molecule, in and of itself, instead of as something which DNA creates.
James Watson was a rather level-headed guy. But, according to Watson, Crick was a bit over the top on occasion. He had a wild, loud laugh, and his voice could be heard all over the Cavendish Laboratory of King's College, Cambridge, where he and Watson worked. The head of the Cavendish Laboratory, Sir Lawrence Bragg, himself noted for work in the revolutionary field of x-ray crystallography, often dreaded the appearance of Francis Crick, as it generally meant an environment so packed with speech that nobody else could hear themselves think.
Watson and Crick, about halfway along the path of their researches into the structure of DNA, went a bit over the top, trying to convince a couple scientists, whom I'll talk about in just a moment, that Watson and Crick finally had the right idea regarding the structure of DNA. They were proven embarrassingly wrong.
Bragg cut both Watson and Crick out of DNA research. The two scientists already had research projects they were supposed to be working on, anyway. The DNA research had simply snowballed into something much larger. And Bragg figured it was time to melt that snowball. But Watson continued to work, a bit covertly, on the structure of DNA.
Watson's book The Double Helix was a best seller. I feel like it was a best seller simply because of the subject. DNA is one of the hottest topics in science. But Watson also wrote the book with a lot of feeling and style. The way he describes the interactions he has with scientists, artists, and aristocrats in Europe and America is really filled with conflict, intense personalities, and lively situations.
But at the bottom of the story is, really, the mystery of DNA. This mystery could, I feel, be presented as a detective story. I'm sure others have said that before about this book. But I found the story interesting because it actually related to two other mystery stories I've read over the past few months.
One of those stories is Badge of Infamy, by Lester Del Rey. I read this story in September. I don't remember all the details of the story. And I'll talk about it in a moment. But the story of The Double Helix, written in 1968, though it was about the events of 1951 to 1953, has a lot in common with Lester Del Rey's novel, which was written in 1957 -- and is about events taking place 200 or so years in the future.
But the other story The Double Helix seems to relate pretty darn well to, and which I read only a few days ago, is David Starr, Space Ranger, by Isaac Asimov. Again, this story was written in the year 1952 -- so, right about at the midway point of Watson and Crick's efforts.
David Starr, Space Ranger purports to be a mystery. There is some kind of mystery, even though I don't think it's very well executed. For Asimov, this is kind of a surprise, considering that he writes mystery stories quite well. But I don't think this is one of his more popular books. In fact, he wrote it under the name Paul French. Anyhow, the fact that the mystery doesn't work very well doesn't really wreck the parts of the story that are good.
However, there is another strange element to this story. I noticed this before I'd read The Double Helix, actually. It was like Asimov, in David Starr, wasn't just trying to write a mystery story. It was like he was trying to write a hard-boiled pulp novel. As I read the beginning of the story, I had a strange feeling that I was reading something that was actually trying to sound like Lester Del Rey. Though -- I've only read Badge of Infamy. So I really can't make a solid judgment on what Del Rey's style really is.
Asimov's story doesn't stick to the pulp element, though. It wavers in and out. There are other themes which I don't think I'm very accustomed to seeing in Asimov. At one point, David Starr receives the name "Space Ranger" from a group of aliens. The scene is so comic-booky that one can almost imagine everything happening in frames, with dialogue bubbles. And later on, there are scenes where David Starr place a phantom-like alien character with a spookiness one might expect from Tales from the Crypt.
All these elements together make for a kind of uneven narrative, in my opinion. But taken as separate elements, they are enjoyable.
David Starr, Space Ranger is the story of a young investigator for the Council of Science, a kind of agency that supervises the affairs of the entire universe. David Starr is the son of Lawrence Starr, a scientists who was killed by space pirates while David was only a little boy.
Starr has just graduated from the Academy of the Council of Science. He is going to celebrate at a new restaurant in International City with one of his mentors, Dr. Augustus Henree. But while Starr is waiting for Dr. Henree, he sees one of the other patrons of the restaurant up and die from poisoned food.
Eventually Dr. Henree arrives and helps Starr see to the dead man. Starr and Henree go back to the Council of Science headquarters and talk about matters. Earth can no longer grow enough food to support the five billion (!) people who now live on the planet. So Mars is the main source for Earth's food.
But somebody on Mars is tampering with the food supply going to Earth. Nobody can figure out who's doing it, or why. The poisonings are all small and they all appear to be random.
Starr goes to Mars to do some undercover investigation. He goes to the Farm Employment office to get a job as a farmhand. While he's there he meets a guy named Bigman. Bigman is a human who's lived all his life on Mars. He used to work on a farm for a guy named Makian, one of the biggest farm owners, and hence one of the richest men, on Mars.
But Bigman caught Makian and his stooges sneaking out to do some shady business one night. He didn't keep his mouth shut about what he saw. So he was kicked off the farm. He was also blacklisted from working at any farm on Mars.
Starr's chances don't look much better for getting a job. Earth men don't have an easy time finding approval in any aspect of Mars life. And as Starr is preparing to leave the employment office, Makian and his goons head into the office. They see Bigman and try to start up some trouble with him. But Starr gets in the way.
Starr has, it seems, a kind of super-human strength and reflex power. It doesn't seem to be well-explained in the book. But it does seem to be part of some overall mystery regarding Starr's childhood. It seems like, in the pirate invasion that killed Starr's father, Starr himself may have been exposed to some kind of radiation that made him super-strong.
This is yet another comic book or super-hero motif in the book that I don't think I've found in anything else Asimov has done.
Starr, knocking down a guy named Griswold, one of Makian's best men, gets accepted to work on Makian's farm. He says he'll go if he can bring Bigman along. So they all head out to Makian's car -- where Starr and Bigman are promptly clubbed on the heads.
Starr wakes up a while later in a room that serves as a prison on Makian's farm. Starr makes up some story about wanting to work on a farm because he wants to investigate the poisoning of the food from Mars. He says that he had a sister who was killed by poisoned food. Makian and his henchmen seem to be okay with this explanation. So they let him work with Bigman -- in the kitchen, serving the "real" farmers their meals every day.
In the meantime, Starr makes friends with an agronomist on the farm. The agronomist, or farming scientist, is named Benson. Benson is pretty powerful on the farm, since food has to be well cared for to grow at all on Mars. Benson even confides in Starr that he believes there are actual aliens, non-human Martians, living underground. He says that perhaps the underground Martians are poisoning the food as it grows.
One day, Starr is serving Makian and his henchmen their dinner. Griswold tries again to start up a fight. Starr handily beats Griswold. Makian and his second in command, Hennes, seem to approve of Starr's ability to handle himself in dangerous situations. They recommend that Starr go out with some of the farmers the next day for a "checkup" run The "checkup" runs are trips out to the farms of Mars.
The humans on Mars all live inside of gigantic bubbles. But -- I think -- the actual farms are outside, in the fields of Mars. The farms are all encased in small, glass boxes. But Mars is so constantly subject to windstorms that the glass boxes constantly stand a chance of breaking or cracking. So the farmers often have to go out and check on these boxes and fix them.
Starr agrees to go out on a "checkup" run. Bigman finds a way to sneak onto Starr's crew. Griswold is still playing tricks on Starr. He gives Starr a car without any extra ballast. This is the other thing about Mars. Inside the bubbles, the gravity is made to match the gravity of earth. But outside the bubbles, the gravity is Mars gravity. So things are much lighter. And since Starr's vehicle doesn't have any ballast, it is extra light, and it reacts violently to any bumps or swerves in the road.
Starr almost dies. When Starr manages to get his car stopped, Griswold blames Starr for bad driving. But Bigman sees what Griswold has done. He calls Griswold on it. Griswold says that if Starr has a problem with it, he can fight. But everybody, in the atmosphere of Mars, is wearing oxygen masks. So Griswold and Starr take off their oxygen masks and have a breathless fight.
Starr and Griswold are fighting near a gigantic gorge. Griswold tries to maneuver Starr near the gorge, so he can throw Starr down to his death. But instead, disoriented by his own lack of oxygen, he falls off into the gorge himself.
The farmers all approve of Starr now. But now Benson asks Starr to work for him. Starr starts doing chemical analysis of vegetation to see if he can find any poison. The work is getting nowhere. He never finds anything.
Bigman has finally gotten his working papers back. He is no longer blacklisted, and he has no desire to work for Makian's farm any more. So he's leaving. He comes to tell Starr goodbye. But while he's there he finds out that Starr is working undercover for the Council of Science. Bigman is pretty impressed. Starr gives Bigman a task -- to retrieve some documents for Starr, some maps of Mars, from the Library of the Council of Science in a nearby Martian town.
Bigman does this. Starr and Bigman meet later on, outside the dome. Starr reveals that he's going down the gorge. Starr tells Bigman about Benson's statement that there could be non-human Martians living underground. Starr's going to check it out. To repel down the gorge, he uses a repelling cable that hooks into rock walls using an invisible force-field kind of grappling hook.
Bigman leaves. Starr heads down into the gorge. But he only gets a certain way down into the gorge before the top closes over him. Not only does the top close over him, but some invisible force presses down on his body, kind of crumpling Starr up into a fetal position. In this position, Starr passes out.
When Starr wakes up, he finds himself in a small room. There are two aliens in the room with him. But he can't see them. They speak with him telepathically and tell him that they are non-material. They are thought-forms. They have no desire to interfere with humanity. But, when they saw Starr coming down into the gorge, they thought it might be interesting to run a few tests on him.
The aliens see that Starr has journeyed a bit through space, and that he works as some kind of law enforcement official. So they, not really understanding proper names very well, call him "Space Ranger." Starr likes the name. He thinks he'll keep it.
The aliens believe that Starr's race can develop itself into highly evolved thought-beings eventually. And so they will let the humans alone to develop in peace.
However, the thought-form aliens also have the ability to transmute matter into anything, at will. The thought-form aliens give Starr a gift, a strip of gauze which can be worn over the eyes, but then spreads a kind of cloaking device all over the body. The cloaking device scrambles some kind of electromagnetic waves around the person. This not only creates a minor kind of force field shield around the person, but also conceals the person's identity in a kind of jumbly haze.
Starr is floated back up to ground level and allowed to go back to the dome. But as he's headed back to the dome, he's caught in one of Mars' sinister, murderous sandstorms. Starr almost dies in the storm before he recalls the gauze shield the thought-form aliens have given him. Starr puts the gauze shield over his eyes. Soon the force field is protecting his whole body.
Starr arrives back at the dome, a bit worse for the wear, and finds out he's been gone for two whole days. Makian and Hennes suspect that Starr's been plotting something against them. So they imprison Starr in his room. Starr, in bad shape from the storm, needs a bit of medical help. So he's given that, as well as a bath.
Later on, Benson comes in and shows Starr a gun he's been using, ostensibly to collect samples from shipments of Mars food. Benson seems terribly worried, and he tips Starr off that there's probably going to be a much bigger attack on earth's food supply within thirty-six hours.
Starr is again attacked by one of Makian's henchmen. This time, however, Makian gets a number of men on Starr, and Starr is subdued -- in fact, he's almost strangled to death! But now another member of the Council of Science arrives on the scene, led to Starr's prison by Bigman. This member of the Council grants Starr his freedom.
The member of the Council is something like a judge. He is going to preside over something like a meeting with Makian to figure out how to stop all this poisoning. Nobody yet knows what's causing it.
But Starr is now pretty assured that Makian's second-in-command, Hennes, is involved somehow with the poisonings. I think Hennes motivation, described earlier in the book, is that, as the poisonings, which were never very large scale, get more and more notoriety in the press, Martian farms get sold off by people who don't think they'll be able to make money off them anymore.
In this way, I think, Hennes reasons, Makian will get all these lands at a very cheap price. Then he can stop the poisonings. Martian food can resume being sold. And Makian -- and Hennes with him -- can become richer than ever.
So Starr appears before Hennes under the guise the aliens have given him: "Space Ranger." He plays some kind of haunted house ghost kind of game against Hennes. Hennes really does end up being kind of freaked out. Starr manages to get a set of keys to the safe from Hennes' room. Starr then goes to the safe, which is -- I don't know -- somewhere else. He finds -- don't ask me why or how -- Benson's sample-gun inside.
The next day there's a big trial, at which Starr doesn't show up, but which the "Space Ranger" attends. Starr has already figured out that Benson, at Hennes' request, has been spreading the poison into selected batches of food by the use of the sampling gun. He gives all the details of how this was done. Hennes eventually confesses to the whole thing.
Later on Bigman, who was also at the trial, says that he knew the whole time that Starr was the "Space Ranger." It had to do with Starr's space boots. On Mars, space boots are very individual things. Most people choose bright colors and odd patterns. But Starrs have always just been white and black. And so were the "Space Ranger's" boots, even thought Bigman could barely see them behind the cloud.
Starr says he is getting ready to head out on more adventures. Bigman would like to go with him. So Starr and Bigman decide to head out on more adventures together. And the book ends with a silly kind of "Three Musketeers" catch-line.
Now, I can't remember the names or plots from Del Rey's novel Badge of Infamy, but I just wanted to get some of the details down here, so it could be compared with Asimov's book.
In Badge of Infamy, the main character is a doctor who's been blacklisted. This is the future, about 200 years from now. Labor unions basically control the world. If you belong to a labor union, you cannot practice the labor if you are not in a union-sanctioned area for practice. And if you do practice, you are blacklisted from your profession for the rest of your life. I think you may even be subject to corporal punishment.
So the story begins with a doctor who's been blacklisted for saving somebody's life by performing on the spot surgery outside of a union-sanctioned hospital. The doctor not only can't get a job as a doctor: he can't get a job at all. When you're blacklisted, your eventual fate is to starve to death.
But the doctor is "lucky" enough to have one of the people in the flophouse he's in die in the bed next to his. The doctor has tried to help him medically in small ways, I think. So the man gives the doctor his ticket to Mars. The man was thinking he'd be able to work on the farms of Mars. He'd come from there before, and he was just getting ready to go back. But he'd suddenly been stricken with the illness that then killed him.
So the doctor goes to Mars. But he goes on a flight on which is also his ex-wife or ex-fiancee. The ex-wife now hates the doctor. She looks at him as a traitor, since he practiced medicine to save a man's life in a non-sanctioned area.
On Mars, someone lets some thugs know who the doctor really is. They all beat him up. He passes out, but is picked up by a farmer who takes the doctor out to his farming village. The farmer says that he hates the blacklisting rules of earth's union-driven society. He does whatever he can to help people who have fallen victim to it.
But the farmer has another motive for helping the doctor. The people of the farmer's community all seem to be dying of the same disease. It's a virus or a bacteria or something. But people can't figure out what's causing it or how to stop it. The farmer is hoping that the doctor, who was, before he'd been blacklisted, one of the greatest doctors on Earth, can stop the community from dying out. The farmer also suspects the illness is a Mars-wide epidemic. So if the doctor can help, he'll probably be helping everybody on Mars.
There are a number of dangerous scenes that follow. The doctor gets caught, kind of reconciles with the ex-wife, goes up into space for punishment, and is helped, by his ex-wife, to escape the punishment and return secretly to Mars.
The doctor and the ex-wife now both start working on a solution to the problem of the Mars virus. They don't know exactly what will stop it. The doctor and ex-wife are somewhat reconciled. But they still aren't on very good terms with each other. Eventually they seem to figure out the solution to the problem. But while they are figuring out a solution to the problem, a big revolution is starting on Mars, which is revolting against being ruled by Earth.
The big Martian revolt is stopped, and the cure for the virus is presented to people. The cure for the virus is a Martian-native weed called Bracky-weed. You have to smoke it. So anybody who has this virus just has to smoke Bracky-weed for the rest of their lives, and they'll be fine.
Regardless of the fact that the ending to this story seems to be prescient of the uses of medicinal marijuana, it also has some linguistic commonality with James D. Watson's story of The Double Helix. In Watson's story, Watson was, as I said above, told that he could no longer work on discerning the structure of DNA with Francis Crick. Watson and Crick were "off the case," as a police chief might say. And they had to go back to more normal researches.
But Watson's more normal research was studying RNA patterns in Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV). And, it appears to me, if Watson hadn't been made to step away from being so focused on DNA -- if he hadn't had to look at TMV, he wouldn't have been able to look at the DNA problem from a distance, with the perspective he needed actually to be able to solve the problem.
The basic story of The Double Helix involves five people: James D. Watson, Francis Crick, Linus Pauling, Maurice Wilkins, and Rosalind Franklin. Watson and Crick did their research at King's College, Cambridge. Wilkins and Franklin did theirs at King's College, London. And Pauling did his at Cal Tech, in the United States.
Pauling was already famous for his theories. He was about fifty years old, and he had even worked, I believe, on the Los Alamos project for constructing the atomic bomb. As the book opens, Pauling announces his discovery, which he came upon by the use of atomic models he'd built, of the a-helix of DNA. This was a pretty big discovery.
Watson himself hadn't been too interested in DNA to begin with. He was a biologist from Chicago, and he even classifies himself as a "birdwatcher." He then went to Copenhagen to study the process of multiplication in bacterial viruses. The professor under whom he studied was Herman Kalckar.
Watson needed more training in chemistry to really understand the proceses. And, as part of his training, he was sent by Kalckar's friend Luria to a conference in Naples. At this conference, Watson heard a lecture by Maurice Wilkins on x-ray crystallography. X-ray crystallography, practiced on crystallized portions of DNA, were helping to indicate the shape of DNA.
Pauling had determined the shaped of DNA by working with physical models. But Wilkins could do it with precise machinery. This seemed to be quite exciting to Watson. Watson tried to talk with Wilkins about it. But Wilkins didn't seem to interested.
Watson, at the time, had his sister, Elizabeth, with him. Wilkins seemed to be attracted to Elizabeth. Watson thought he could use Elizabeth to get Wilkins more interested in DNA. But Wilkins was still rather glum and ineffectual.
It turns out that Wilkins was glum and ineffectual because of the person he was working with at King's College, London: Rosalind Franklin. Franklin was most likely the best x-ray crystallographer in the world. And she was only getting better. She had the best techniques for taking x-ray diffraction photographs.
But Franklin seemed to be a bitterly misguided feminist, in Watson's opinion. She was so determined to have an equal place with the men around her, that she fought violently against everything the men said to her.
It was really hard for Wilkins to get any work done with Franklin. Franklin was almost abusive toward Wilkins, who was a rather meek man. But Wilkins also couldn't fire Franklin. She was the best x-ray diffraction photographer in the world. So he was terribly glum, not really motivated to do any work at all.
Watson gave up on Wilkins. But he wondered if he could go somewhere else to work on figuring out the structure of DNA by using x-ray diffraction photography. He found another laboratory, the Cavendish Laboratory, in King's College, Cambridge.
But Watson was still doing research up in Copenhagen. He couldn't just up and leave from there. But suddenly Watson's professor, Kalckar, ended up plunging into a marriage situation that was likely to end up in a divorce. Kalckar basically told Watson there wouldn't be much research over the next year. Watson was free to do what he wanted.
So Watson wrote to Sir Lawrence Bragg, who ran the Cavendish Laboratory, as well as Max Perutz and John Kendrew, who were working more closely with the x-ray photography machine. The men welcomed Watson down to Cambridge. And Watson left. Watson had a hard time finding a place. But he ended up being invited to live in an apartment in the basement of John and Elizabeth Kendrew's residence. Watson stayed there for a year.
At King's College, Watson met Francis Crick. Crick was by this time known as a kind of genius who could help everybody else see their own ideas through, and could always produce brilliant help, even solutions, for other people's problems, but had yet to make a brilliant breakthrough of his own.
Crick was thirty-five. He'd served as a scientist in London during the war. But after the war, he was kind of left out in the cold. He'd tried in a few different places to get his bearings, so that he could finally make a career for himself out of science. But he was never able to do it.
Finally, thanks to the goodness of his friends, Crick ended up at King's College, studying the effects of salt-water solutions on the compression of hemoglobin proteins. This, at the time, was an extremely important question in pre-DNA biology.
Crick was hardened by his life. But he didn't let it show, in general. He had a loud, boisterous laugh, and he could talk a mile a minute, for miles and miles and minutes and minutes. He also loved girls. Girls, in these days, in Cambridge, were called "popsies." And Crick's wife Odile would (surpisingly) find Crick's discussion of the beauties of these "popsies" quite amusing.
So would Watson. In fact, Watson really loved Crick's personality. And he'd have dinner with Crick and Odile at their house, known as the "Green Door" (from a Strindberg play, I guess), all the time. Watson said that he wouldn't ever want to leave Cambridge, simply based on the entertainment provided there by Crick's personality.
But a lot of other people, including the administrator of the laboratory, Sir Lawrence Bragg, had a really hard time dealing with Crick's personality, especially his loudness and boisterousness.
Crick and Watson shared an interest in DNA. They began discussing the difficulties of the problem, and the promises of its solution. They both felt that simplicity was key. Scientists knew at this point in time that DNA was composed of a sugar, a phosphate, and a base. The base was either purine (adenine or guanine) or pyrimidine (cytosine or thymine) -- the A, G, C, and T now familiar to us all.
It also seemed pretty likely that the sugar and phosphate together formed a kind of backbone for the DNA. This backbone probably had a regular pattern.
Linus Pauling, as I said above, had recently made another great contribution to science by modeling the a-helix of DNA. This showed that DNA coiled about. It didn't solve all the difficulties of the structure of DNA. There had to be more to DNA than just the first coil -- I think because the problem of replication wasn't solved with just one coil. But I'm probably wrong about that.
Anyhow, Crick and Watson knew that the really important discovery would be the one that could take Pauling's a-helix discovery and add the missing pieces -- whether they be additional helices or something else.
Crick and Watson felt like the best way to do this would be a double-attack. First, Crick and Watson would try to beat Pauling at his own game: they'd build three-dimensional models, like Pauling had. Second, they'd use x-ray diffraction photography, which Pauling didn't use.
But it turned out, after all, that nobody would really work on x-ray photography for Crick and Watson at Cavendish. So Crick and Watson went back to Maurice Wilkins, who was already, through Rosy Franklin, working on x-ray diffraction photography of DNA. Crick already had the advantage of having worked with Wilkins in the past.
But when Crick and Watson got to Wilkins, he was in a bad mental state. Franklin was trying to convince Wilkins not to do any more DNA photography. Franklin had her own researches, now, and she wasn't even talking to Wilkins about them. Franklin was completely impossible to work with, it seemed. And Wilkins was just trying to find some way to get rid of her. In the meantime, Wilkins wasn't getting anything done at all, and he didn't seem interested in getting anything done.
To make matters worse, Crick suddenly became distracted by a terrible argument, which almost became a scandal, between himself and Sir Lawrence Bragg. Crick accused Bragg of stealing an idea that Crick had recently been talking about. Bragg insisted that he would never have done such a thing. And he would not have done such a thing. The senior scientists helped patch up matters for Crick. But Crick was definitely seeming to wear out his welcome with Bragg.
A while later, Watson went to a lecture by Franklin. Franklin's lecture, though cautious and tentative -- while also intending to take the significance out of the recent discoveries of men like Pauling -- did give Watson a bit more insight into the chemical context (if I can use such a term) of DNA. However, Watson still hadn't done much work to improve his knowledge of micro-biological chemistry, so that even the stuff he did understood kind of drifted away from him before he could completely grasp it.
Watson tried to speak with Franklin after the lecture, but she was completely unapproachable.
Watson went back to Crick with the information he'd gotten from Franklin's lecture. The only problem was, Watson, in his usual easy-going style, didn't take any manual notes on the lecture. He just listened and soaked in what he could. As a result of this, he got the water component of the DNA's environment (context, atmosphere, whatever) wrong by a factor of ten.
With this really skewed water component as a part of their calculations, and with only a basic knowledge of the chemistry they were working with, Crick and Watson excitedly began building their models for DNA.
Crick and Watson were now convinced that DNA was a double-helix. They figured that the sugar-phosphate "backbones" of these helices actually stood at the center of the DNA, so that the bases kind of spiked outwards. The sugar-phosphate backbones were linked together with some kind of ion, either a Magnesium cation (Mg++), or a sodium ion (Na+).
Everything seemed to fit together so well that Crick and Watson brought in Wilkins and Franklin to look at the results. Wilkins, though he seemed to be under the cloud of Franklin's abuse (in Watson's opinion), so that he was completely irresolute about everything else, was still passionate enough about DNA research to feel like it was his baby. He was protective enough about it to be pretty angry if someone acted confident about solving its problems, but was really just blundering and bumbling around with it.
And that's just what Crick and Watson appeared to be doing. Wilkins didn't point this out. Franklin pointed this out. Franklin was actually angry enough at Crick and Watson's antics to become quite aggressive toward them. She pointed out that Crick and Watson were working under a majorly incorrect assumption, and that, because of this assumption, nothing else they said could be listened to.
The assumption? They had the water content in the DNA environment incorrect by a factor of ten. Compared to the amount of water Watson and Crick's DNA had, the real DNA was basically swimming in water. Watson and Crick's DNA model couldn't possibly work. Wilkins and Franklin left as soon as they could.
And this was the point at which Sir Lawrence Bragg, chief of police (in a melodramatic sense) for the Cavendish Laboratory, told Watson and Crick, "you're off the case!" Crick was sent back to researching the compression of hemoglobin proteins in saltwater solutions. And Watson chose the topic of x-ray diffraction photography on the tobacco mosaic virus (TMV).
I believe Watson's main goal was to understand the characteristics of RNA in TMV. This would separate Watson's work from Wilkins' work enough so that Wilkins, feeling bruised by the perceived insult of Crick and Watson's perceived DNA tomfoolery, wouldn't fear he was about to be assaulted by Crick and Watson's hijinks all over again.
In the meantime, Crick found a new source of influence in the scientists Erwin Chargaff and John Griffith. Griffith began discussing the ideal of a "perfect biological principle" with Crick. As Crick became more and more excited about the potential DNA had for fulfilling his friend Griffith's idea of a "perfect biological principle," Watson was already starting to show Crick the x-ray photos of the TMV RNA, which was also giving a decidedly helical pattern.
Crick was suddenly excited. He figured the best way to make a new start on the DNA research was by discussing it with these two great scientists, Chargaff and Griffith. Now, Chargaff knew a lot about DNA as it presently stood. And he'd be hard-pressed to believe anything new that someone tried to tell him about it. Chargaff himself had actually discovered the equivalence between adenine and thymine and between guanine and cytosine.
But Crick, in the state Crick and Watson were commonly guilty of -- i.e. vague knowledge of important chemical principles -- had dinner with Chargaff to propose his ideas. He was arguing decently. But he suddenly got to the main point in his argument, when he'd forgotten formulas he didn't know very well to begin with. The problem was -- these were formulas that Chargaff himself had invented. Crick had to sit there, asking Chargaff about his own formulas.
I'm not sure how long it took, after that night, for Chargaff not to think Crick was a clown.
So Crick and Watson were on their own again. In the meantime Wilkins and Franklin didn't seem to be making any progress. Franklin, who was finally planning on leaving Wilkins' lab, anyway, was even asserting that DNA wasn't helical at all! Nevertheless, her x-ray diffraction photographs were more and more virtuosic. She was the best photographer in the world, and her tremendous photographs always seemed to indicate to Watson the double-helix formation of DNA!
Watson, in the meantime, seemed to be separated, in the normal course of his life, from DNA. He'd been dropped from the Copenhagen project, when it became evident he now had no plans of returning there. And he'd been picked up at King's College, working full-time on the TMV RNA project. He'd moved out of John and Elizabeth Kendrew's house and into some residences at Clare College.
Watson was very close with his sister, Elizabeth. Elizabeth even lived at Cambridge while Watson lived there. But Watson was very protective of his sister. So during this time, he talks about protecting his sister from men he doesn't think are good enough for her. Eventually Elizabeth has a bit of a flirting relationship with a high-class Frenchman who's come to Cambridge to "perfect his English." Watson remarks about "au pair" nannies from France who do the same thing.
Finally Linus Pauling came out with a paper where he claimed to have determined the double-helix structure of DNA. The only problem was that his solution implied a type of hydrogen bond that was completely inadmissible, even according to the very basic ideas of chemistry. But Watson and Crick were inspired by Pauling's attempts to continue along their own lines.
But before Watson and Crick went full-steam ahead on their ideas, they had to get Wilkins and Franklin's approval. Watson went to London to talk to the two. Wilkins was busy. So Watson spoke with Franklin first. Franklin was tremendously aggressive toward Watson. By the end of their conversation, Franklin even seemed on the verge of attacking Watson physically!
This is a picture I kind of love. If you see any pictures of Watson at this age -- he was twenty-four years old at the time -- he's skinny, with a fog of shaggy, disordered hair drifting over his head. To see skinny, brainy guy being threatened with attack from this strong woman is kind of a wild scene!
Watson was about to beat a hasty retreat, but he bumped up against Wilkins in the doorway. Watson told Wilkins that Franklin almost beat him up. Then he ran down the hallway. Franklin slammed the door in Wilkins' face. Wilkins then later told Watson he'd had a very similar experience with Franklin. He really though Franklin was going to beat him up.
Suddenly, through this shared experience of Franklin's violence toward them, Watson and Wilkins found themselves on some kind of same level. There'd always been a feeling of superiority in Wilkins, even if it was just something Watson had imagined. But now Watson and Wilkins were like equals -- all because Rosy Franklin had almost beat the both of them up.
Wilkins again showed Watson how Franklin's photographs just kept getting better and better, and more indicative of a double helix, but how Franklin just kept insisting that DNA wasn't a helix at all. This all provided plenty of encouragement for Watson, who figured he and Crick were going to use models, not x-ray photographs, so that they didn't have to worry about Franklin.
The only criticism Wilkins gave Watson was that there was no way at all, given the data from Franklin's photographs, that the sugar-phosphate backbone was in the center of the DNA. It had to be on the outside. This meant that DNA did not look like two poles twisting around each other with spikes coming off of them. Instead it looked like the twisty ladder that we're all familiar with.
So Watson went back home to Crick. The two of them had the metal-shop at King's College construct pieces for the models they intended to make. The sugar-phosphate pieces came first. So Watson had plenty of practice building backbones that would go along the outside of the DNA, rather than up the center. The A, G, C, and T pieces, as well as the hydrogen bonds, and so forth, all seemed to be taking a long time to have ready.
So Watson spent some time theorizing about the bonds. For some reason I don't understand (Crick seemed familiar enough with Chargaff's Laws of A to T and G to C -- I don't know why Watson didn't), Watson decided that he had to pair all A's to each other, all T's to each other, etc. He did this based on some set of hydrogen bonding theories he'd found in a textbook. But an American chemist friend of his, who was also doing research at Cavendish, told him that those theories were all, if not outmoded, then at least known, by people who know, to be fibs or fudges.
Watson went back to the drawing board. At the same time, he finally received the models of A, G, C, and T, and all the hydrogen bonds and the other pieces that could be fit into the backbones. He tried working with them along his previous line of thought, A to A, T to T, etc. But his American friend walked in the door. So Watson spontaneously decided to match some A's to T's and G's to C's, based on what his American friend had said. It worked!
This -- basically -- this point right here, was the end of the discovery of the structure of DNA. All that remained was for Watson and Crick to put together their puzzle and write up a report on it. They did this.
But as they were putting this information together and -- at the insistence of Sir Lawrence Bragg, who was tired of being embarrassed by Watson's and Crick's hasty mistakes -- having the chemistry of their ideas checked and double-checked by people at Cavendish who really knew their chemistry backwards and forwards, Watson and Crick were also slowly letting their colleagues know that the DNA structure had finally been determined.
Linus Pauling, who had generally been friendly personally toward Watson and Crick, but kind of removed from them when it came to discussing anything regarding DNA, was actually thrilled that the discovery had been made.
Wilkins and Franklin were also thrilled. Something in Franklin's personality changed altogether. She became an incredibly nice person. It was decided that Wilkins and Franklin would write a paper on the x-ray diffraction photography aspect of the discovery, since basically all the photography that had influenced Watson's and Cricks thoughts had been the result of Franklin's virtuosity.
Watson's sister Elizabeth actually typed up the report, after Watson and Crick were finished making their manuscript. Not long after this, Elizabeth went back to America, where she married a man of whom, I'm guessing, Watson approved.
Franklin, though she didn't seem to keep much in contact with Watson, actually became good friends with Crick. She sought Crick's advice on things, and Crick often looked to Franklin for insight as well. However, Franklin ended up dying from a terminal disease at the age of thirty-seven. Nevertheless, she was brave in the face of her own mortality, and worked up until the final few weeks of her life.
Now -- ugh! I've done it again! I've written these long, long summaries of works. And I only meant to make short summaries. I have to get better at this. Well, I think the patterns of the Asimov story are easily compared to the patterns of the Del Rey story. And the patterns of the Del Rey story are easily compared to the patterns of the Watson and Crick story.
Hopefully my skill will be good enough in the future that I can actually summarize the stories succinctly and comment on them as well.