So long and thanks for all the hits!

  Sadly, this will be the last post on the DNA and Social Responsibility blog as the project is nearing an end. I hope those who have read the blog have taken away an interest in the life and career of Maurice Wilkins and how the papers that are held in the King's College Archive are a fantastic resource for future research in not only the history of genetics but also the wider role played by science in society in the twentieth century. Helping to catalogue this collection has been an enjoyable experience as it has introduced me to the delights of x-ray diffraction photographs; Fourier Transforms and Electron Density Maps not to mention the myriad political scientific groups most notably, BSSRS.

As a finale,I would like to sign off by sharing my favourite Wilkins' laboratory doodle. Cartoon is somewhat anarchic but does convey how science for Maurice Wilkins is a creative enterprise that still retained a slight hint of alchemy in the proceedings. 

'Ways out of the Arms Race": The Second International Scientists' Congress

During the 1980's, Maurice Wilkins spent a significant amount of time promoting and campaigning on disarmament and development issues. While maintaining his long running membership of British Pugwash, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), British Society for Social Responsibility in Science (BSSRS) and the World Federation of Scientific Worker's (WFSW), he also became honorary President of the Food and Disarmament International (FDI) organisation and an active member of scientists' against nuclear arms (SANA). It was the later that led to his involvement in the 'Ways out of the Arms Race' Second International Scientists' Congress held at Imperial College London, on the 2-4 December 1988. The conference aim was for imminent scientists from across the globe to discuss papers on nuclear, chemical and biological disarmament. It succeeded in doing so with the added benefit of providing political pressure by mobilising its attendance to protest on two concurrent political events: the abduction and imprisonment of the Israeli nuclear plant technician, Dr Mordechai Vanunu and the poison gas attacks by the Iraqi Army in Halabja in 1988. Evidence of the petitions and demonstrations are recorded in the papers of Maurice Wilkins which includes candid replies to him from representatives of the Israeli and Iraqi governments.

Campaign relating to Dr Mordechai Vanunu

Dr Mordechai Vanunu, was a former nuclear technician at the Negev Nuclear Research Center from 1976-1985. In 1986, whilst in Sydney, Australia, he met a Sunday Times journalist and revealed knowledge of the Israeli nuclear weapons programme before accompanying the journalist to London. It was during his time in London that the Israeli Government decided to capture Vanunu and hatched a plan to remove him from UK territory by getting an undercover Mosad agent to pretend to be an American tourist, named Cindy who Vanunu agreed to accompany to Rome. In Rome he was drugged and freighted back to Israeli where he was imprisoned for treason and confined for 18 years, including eleven years of solitary confinement.

 During the Congress, a demonstration was organised to the Israeli Embassy in London where a petition would be handed in asking for clemency for Mr Vananu. A significant number of the delegates signed the petition including fellow Nobel Prize winners, Dorothy Hodgkin and Joseph Rotblat.

The following summer, Wilkins received a reply from the Israeli Government's Ministry of Justice:


Campaign condemning gas attacks on Kurdish civilians

The Halabja massacre is now well known event due in part to the build up to the Second Iraq war and the fall of Sadam Hussain's regime. However, at the time of their occurence the international response was ambiguous with some international media coverage and western governmental officials siding with the official Iraqi line that no poison gas attacks were used against the Kurdish people. Wilkins sent a letter to the Iraqi ambassador in London and recieved a detailed reply with a number of attachments. The letter provides evidence of the divided media coverage and general lack of facts available allowing for passionate denial of any use of chemical weapons and a dismissal of the claims as part of an anti-Iraqi conspiracy. 

Example of the Second International Scientists' Congress petition against the Iraqi government after the chemical attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja.

Objectifying DNA

  The artefacts within the combined papers of the Maurice Wilkins and Biophysics collection include some of the most striking items in our holdings. Correspondence may have warmth and wit and the experimental notebooks may actually give the how and why but nothing beats the sheer visual punch of the DNA wire model or a X-ray diffraction camera. The artefacts are all the more impressive due to the diversity that the collection holds. Highlights include: original DNA fibres supplied by the Swiss biochemist, Rudolf Signer, which were the main source of DNA used in the X-ray diffraction experiments by Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling; several X-ray diffraction cameras including the micro camera used to obtain "Photo 51", the picture of B structure DNA that so sharply showed a helical structure of DNA; DNA models and diagrams that the Biophysics Unit used to construct and refine more detailed models of DNA, with the pride and joy being the several metre long roll of the DNA molecular model ceremoniously nicknamed the "DNA toilet paper". These are a few of our favourite things and they are joined by many other items that directly relate to DNA and previous microscopic research carried out on the subject.

A few of the DNA related artefacts at King's Archives such as the single fibre X-ray camera used by Rosalind Franklin, glass vials containing original DNA samples used in the X-ray diffraction experiments, DNA diagram and Biophysics photo index

The collection has a remarkable degree of preserved DNA samples from the 1950s that not only include the Rudolf Signer Calf Thymus DNA that produced excellent B configuration X ray patterns sample but also DNA samples prepared from other scientists such as Erwin Chargaff and Leonard Hamilton which used a variety of other DNA sources like bacterial cultures and human DNA.

Image of a molecular model of DNA reproduced for the 40th anniversaryof the discovery of the double helix at King's College London

Two new Flickr sets taken from 35mm mounted slide series. Only a small sample of over thousand images that were digitally captured over the last two months. Highlights include high quality images of Rosalind Franklin, x-ray diffraction images and models of DNA and images relating to Maurice Wilkins' involvement in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.