1962: Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins (1916-2004)

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1962 (jointly with Francis Harry Compton Crick and James Dewey Watson)

"for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material"

Maurice Wilkins came up to St John’s in 1935 to read Physics, achieving his BA in 1938. He then moved to the Physics Department at Birmingham University, conducting research into the luminescence of solids for the Ministry of Home Security and Aircraft Production, gaining his PhD in 1940. After this, he spent some time working under another Johnian, Marcus Oliphant, on the separation of uranium isotopes for use in bombs. Shortly after, he continued this research as part of the Manhattan Project in Berkeley, California.

After the war, Wilkins moved to Scotland to become a Lecturer in Physics at St Andrews University, moving after one year to King’s College London in 1946 to become a member of the newly formed Biophysics Unit of the Medical Research Council. He was Deputy Director of the unit from 1955-1970, and Director from 1970-72. In 1963 he became Professor of Molecular Biology, a position he held until 1970 when he became Professor of Biophysics, and remained as such until his retirement in 1981, having spent over three decades at KCL.

Amongst his awards and honours, Wilkins was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1959. In 1960 he shared the Albert Lasker Award from the American Public Health Association with Crick and Francis. He was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1963, an Honorary Fellow here at St John’s in 1972, and was awarded Honorary Doctorates from Glasgow University (1972), Trinity College Dublin (1992) and Birmingham University (1992).