Video | Business Headlines | Internet | Science | Scientific Ethics | Technology | Search


The Death of Professor Maurice Wilkins

Fri, 08 Oct 2004

The Death of Professor Maurice Wilkins

The Royal Society of New Zealand expresses its great regret over the death of eminent New Zealand scientist Maurice Wilkins, aged 87. In 1953, Maurice played a key role in one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs of the twentieth century, the discovery of DNA's double helix. Later he became New Zealand's second Nobel laureate, when Wilkins, Watson and Crick received the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for this work.

Born in 1916 in the backblocks of the Wairarapa, Maurice was taken to England at the age of six and received his physics degree at Cambridge University in 1938. Despite leaving New Zealand so early, he described his years here as 'living in paradise', and regarded himself as a New Zealander still.

In 2003 the Royal Society of New Zealand celebrated 50 years of the DNA double helix with a year-long commemoration of Maurice's life and work. A number of scientific organisations contributed to a portrait of Maurice, painted by New Zealand artist Juliet Kac, which now hangs in the Society's rooms in Wellington (the portrait can be seen at ). A poem was dedicated to Maurice was written by Victoria University's Chris Orsman (see below).

Maurice is survived by his wife, Patricia Ann, two sons and two daughters. His autobiography, "The Third Man of the Double Helix," was published last year.

For more information on Maurice Wilkins and the year of DNA celebration, see

Making Waves

for Maurice Wilkins

Light diffracted on a bedroom wall at 30 Kelburn Parade, making waves through a cloth blind, circa 1920; outside, pongas and cabbage trees lie just within memory's range, a pattern and a shadow. The silence here is qualified but it draws you out, four years old, or five. The world's a single room where fronds and wind tap a code against the window pane. Next up you're wild, sprinting down a helix of concrete steps from the hills to the harbour. Or you're leaning into a gale commensurate to your incline and weight; the elements support you, and the blustery horizon is fresh with new information.


And now the landscape changes from island to continent to island again, and there's a sea-change as we fire off certain rays to form a transverse across your history. Acclimatised, you wintered over in laboratories and made a virtue of basements and arcane knowledge; you found a scientific silence or a calm in which things are worked out at a snail's pace, a slime stretched and scrutinized between forefinger and thumb to yield a feast of the truth, or a field ploughed with frustration, if that is where our guesses land us. For Science is a railway carriage rocking with big ideas, sometimes stalled on the sidings or slowed on branch lines near rural stations. And still the whole is too huge for us to comprehend, one metre long, wrapped around each cell, unread until it's unwound, the scarf and valence of our complexity, from which we derive our unique timbre to say: Well done! Well done!


To an amateur an x-ray plate looks like an old fashioned gramophone disk: yet it plays scratchy music of the spheres, jazz of an original order. Or perhaps it's the ground-section of a Byzantine Cathedral, or a basilica of double colonnades and semi-circular apse and who builds upwards from that to discover the grand design? Who constructs with only a floor plan to find the elevations? Those who are neither architects nor masons but quiet archaeologists of the unseen hand and mind of God, digging upwards to the exquisite airy construction of the double helix. Gifted clumsiness? Genius? You are there at the start of it, a chiropractor of the biochemical, clicking the backbone of DNA into place.

Chris Orsman 2002


© Scoop Media

Business Headlines | Sci-Tech Headlines


Watch This Space: Mahia Rocket Lab Launch Site Officially Opened

Economic Development Minster Steven Joyce today opened New Zealand’s first orbital launch site, Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1, on the Mahia Peninsula on the North Island’s east coast. More>>


Marketing Rocks!
Ig Nobel Award Winners Assess The Personality Of Rocks

A Massey University marketing lecturer has received the 2016 Ig Nobel Prize for economics for a research project that asked university students to describe the “brand personalities” of three rocks. More>>


Nurofen Promotion: Reckitt Benckiser To Plead Guilty To Misleading Ads

Reckitt Benckiser (New Zealand) intends to plead guilty to charges of misleading consumers over the way it promoted a range of Nurofen products, the Commerce Commission says. More>>


Half A Billion Accounts, Including Xtra: Yahoo Confirms Huge Data Breach

The account information may have included names, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, hashed passwords (the vast majority with bcrypt) and, in some cases, encrypted or unencrypted security questions and answers. More>>


Rural Branches: Westpac To Close 19 Branches, ANZ Looks At 7

Westpac confirms it will close nineteen branches across the country; ANZ closes its Ngaruawahia branch and is consulting on plans to close six more branches; The bank workers union says many of its members are nervous about their futures and asking ... More>>

Interest Rates: RBNZ's Wheeler Keeps OCR At 2%

Reserve Bank governor Graeme Wheeler kept the official cash rate at 2 percent and said more easing will be needed to get inflation back within the target band. More>>


Get More From Scoop

Search Scoop  
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news