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Posted: 18 September 2007

Co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, Dr James Watson gives public lecture at UCD

Nobel prize-winning scientist, Dr James D Watson one of the most influential figures in 20th century science, who co-discovered the structure of DNA, gave a public lecture to a packed auditorium at UCD during his recent visit to Ireland for the Bernal Symposium on Protein Crystallization.

In his lecture: Rules for Doing High-Level Science, Dr Watson outlined his early scientific career and described the personalities, conflicts and controversy surrounding the breakthrough discovery of the double helix structure of DNA in 1953.

At the age of 25, Watson and his co-worker Francis Crick published a landmark paper in Nature describing the double helix structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA. By establishing that DNA carries ‘the secrets of life,’ the discovery fundamentally altered the development of science, philosophy and religion. For their work, along with Maurice Wilkins, the two scientists received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962.

“The invention of the jet engine and the transistor in engineering; the understanding of blood flow and the development of antibiotics in medicine; and the discovery of the structure of matter and the nature of light in physics and chemistry, have all had a monumental impact on the way we live. The work of James Watson is undoubtedly in this league,” said Dr Hugh Brady, President of UCD, as he introduced Dr Watson to the public gallery.

In his public lecture, (as in his 1968 book: The Double Helix) Dr Watson truly inspired his audience to believe that any researcher, in any laboratory, is capable of great inspiration and discovery.

In his lecture he outlined his rules for completing high-level science which included:

  • “Don’t work alone. Have a team mate. And try to team up with someone brighter than you.”
  • “Don’t work on something unless you know you can get the answers in 3 years. You must have a clear path to the top.”
  • “Never be the brightest person in the room. Go to the place where all the best and brightest people are working.”
  • “Talk to your competitors. And read their work.”
  • “Never go to the frontier without someone to save you if you fail. You should always have a fallback position.”

The Bernal Symposium on Protein Crystallization

The Bernal Symposium on Protein Crystallization was held at UCD from 03 – 04 September 2007. JD Bernal was a prominent crystallographer and political activist, born in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary. Andrew Brown, author of JD Bernal: The Sage of Science, gave a plenary lecture at the symposium describing Bernal's colourful and bohemian life.

The symposium was held in conjunction with the Irish/British Association for Crystal Growth (IACG/BACG) conference which was organised by Dr Brian Glennon, UCD School of Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering and Centre for Synthesis and Chemical Biology (CSCB).

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Co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, Dr James Watson gives public lecture at UCD