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Celebration of NZer's DNA Discovery Contribution

The achievements of Maurice Wilkins, the scientist who was jointly awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his role in the discovery of the structure of DNA, will be marked at the site of his boyhood home in Wellington (Tuesday 11 February, 1-2pm) to celebrate the golden anniversary of the discovery.

Professor Wilkins shared the Nobel Prize with Francis Crick and James Watson. A plaque (transcript follows) and double helix sculpture to honour Professor Wilkins, who counts himself as a New Zealander despite living in the United Kingdom since the early 1920s, will be unveiled by three visiting fellow Nobel Laureates.

Professor Alan MacDiarmid, Wellington-born and educated at Victoria University, will be joined by fellow winners of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry —Professors Hideki Shirakawa and Alan Heeger — for the unveiling outside Victoria University's Murphy Building. The Murphy Building is built on the site of 30 Kelburn Parade, which was the family home of Wilkins.

Professors MacDiarmid, Shirakawa and Heeger will be in Wellington to attend AMN-1 — an international conference on innovative materials and nanotechnology being organised by the Victoria University-hosted MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology.

Professor Wilkins, who will not be present for the unveiling, said, "It gives me great satisfaction that my life at Kelburn Parade as a boy is being celebrated in this way."

Professor Stuart McCutcheon, Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University said, "This is a golden moment in celebrating science. I hope that the commemorative plaque will come to be recognised as a national monument to the achievements of Professor Maurice Wilkins".

"The University is delighted to have this inspirational link to Maurice Wilkins and his outstanding achievement. Along with the University's close relationship with Alan MacDiarmid, and our extensive research networks, the plaque cements staff and student ties to the international science network."

Poet Chris Orsman, 2002 Writer in Residence at Victoria University, will read for the first time in New Zealand Making Waves—the poem commissioned by the Royal Society of New Zealand to celebrate Wilkins. [Editor’s note: A copy of the poem is available from Juliet Montague (details below).]
The Nobel Laureates will be joined at the unveiling celebration by the Hon Pete Hodgson, members of the science and University communities, the Kelburn Residents Association, Mayor Kerry Prendergast, and children from Kelburn Normal School who will release 50 balloons to represent the golden anniversary of the discovery of DNA.
The event fits into a year-long programme being organised by the Royal Society of New Zealand to mark the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the structure of DNA. More details can be obtained from Glenda Lewis, Royal Society of New Zealand, +64 4 470 5758 or 025 210 0997.
Information on Professor Maurice Wilkins can be found at www.nzedge.com/heroes/wilkins.html
The DNA Nobel Prize site can be found at www.nobel.se/medicine/laureates/1962/index.html
Media are invited to the event on Tuesday 11th February, 1-2pm, Murphy Building, Victoria University, Kelburn Parade.

Issued by Victoria University of Wellington Public Affairs
For further information please contact Juliet.Montague@vuw.ac.nz or phone 04 463 5105 or 025 439 670.

The plaque inscription follows:

MAURICE HUGH FREDERICK WILKINS
1962 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
o born Pongaroa, 1916
o lived here at 30 Kelburn Parade as a boy
o received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 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".
In 1945 Maurice Wilkins decided to study the molecular structure of genes. In 1947 he began studying genes in living cells, DNA, and viruses using new types of optical microscopes. In 1950 he concentrated on X-ray diffraction of DNA with Raymond Gosling and Alexander Stokes, and they discovered that DNA was helical. In January 1951 Rosalind E. Franklin (1920-1958) joined the work at King’s College, followed by Herbert Wilson in September 1952, and their work considerably aided the X-ray studies. In April 1953 Nature published the Watson Crick model of DNA. The crystallographic data supporting the model appeared in the same issue in two separate papers by Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the publication of the discovery, this plaque was unveiled on 11 February 2003 by the Nobel Laureates in Chemistry who together discovered and developed conductive polymers:
o Professor Alan J Heeger
o Professor Alan G MacDiarmid (Victoria University of Wellington alumnus)
o Professor Hideki Shirakawa.

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