Saturday, March 05, 2005

A Splendid Remembrance

Oliver Sacks pays a final tribute to his long-time friend and fellow scientific researcher Francis Crick.

Who is Oliver Sacks? From the official website:

In 1966 Dr. Sacks began working as a consulting neurologist for Beth Abraham Hospital, a chronic care facility in the Bronx where he encountered an extraordinary group of patients, many of whom had spent decades in strange, frozen states, like human statues, unable to initiate movement. He recognized these patients as survivors of the great pandemic of sleepy sickness that had swept the world from 1916 to 1927, and treated them with a then-experimental drug, L-dopa, which enabled them to come back to life. They became the subjects of his second book, Awakenings (1973), which later inspired a play by Harold Pinter ("A Kind of Alaska ") and the Oscar-nominated Hollywood movie, "Awakenings," with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams.

He is, of course, much more than that, but for those of us not part of a scientific/academic milieu that is all it takes as a reminder. This wonderful recollection of his years of correspondence and collaboration with Francis Crick appears in the New York Review of Books.

Who is Francis Crick? This is from his bio at the Nobel Prize website:

A critical influence in Crick's career was his friendship, beginning in 1951, with J. D. Watson, then a young man of 23, leading in 1953 to the proposal of the double-helical structure for DNA and the replication scheme. Crick and Watson subsequently suggested a general theory for the structure of small viruses.

Every student of biology knows of the famous "Watson-Crick model for DNA," the jumping off point of all we now understand about the importance of chromosomes, genes, the Human Genome Project and all that derives from that line of scientific investigative work.
The 1962 Nobel Prize in Medicine was shared by James Watson and Francis Crick (as a team) and Maurice Wilkins, another DNA researcher. The prize was split three ways among these men. I recall seeing a TV program about James Watson that made reference to a later rift between him and Francis Crick, but that is soap opera stuff I will look into later if I have the inclination. Crick and Wilkins both died last year. Watson, the youngest of the three (less than eighty) is still working.

Meantime, this article by Oliver Sacks makes for great weekend reading.
It makes me wish I could have been a research scientist. Or more suitably, a janitor in one of their labs...I'm not sure I have the smarts to handle what they do for a living.

Big Thank-you, again, to 3Quarks Daily. Abbas has a great eye for things to read.

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