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MAKING THE MODERN WORLD
Stories about the lives we've made

story:What is life?

scene:What is life?

In April 1953 two young men working in Cambridge, Francis Crick and James Watson, published an article on the structure of the chemical DNA. They presented a double-helix structure that would form the basis for molecular biology, genetics and biotechnology.


Crick and Watson look at the double helix shortly after the announcement of its discovery. picture zoom © Science Photo Library

The two scientists were proposing an answer to a scientific conundrum. They were also sure they had unravelled not just the structure of a chemical but the very nature of life.

At that moment it seemed to some that science could topple the old world order of religion and traditional beliefs. Even 50 years later it was not clear whether Crick and Watson had solved a scientific puzzle or answered the metaphysical question, 'What is life?‘.


Reconstruction of Crick and Watson’s 1953 molecular model of DNA, using the original components. picture zoom © Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library

This story explains their scientific achievement, introduces the scientists involved and explores the post-war philosophical debate about the nature and origin of life.

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Crick and Watson look at the double helix shortly after the announcement of its discovery.
Reconstruction of Crick and Watson’s 1953 molecular model of DNA, using the original components.
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