Linus Pauling was wrong about the DNA structure, James Watson
Interviewee: James Watson. DNAi Location: Code > Finding the Structure > Players > Linus Pauling > Would Pauling correct his mistake? James Watson talks about how he and Francis Crick felt about Pauling's helix.
That evening, you know, sort of, six o'clock, we went over when The Eagle opened and, you know, had a drink more or less, you know, to toast Linus' failure, it was, because you know we didn't ever contemplate it, we thought well propose a model and it might not be right but never did we think, well one day, we could reject so instantly. And so we were both pleased and a bit scared because we thought it was, you know, just awful, and maybe someone at Caltech would, you know, upon reading the manuscript would tell Linus this is chemical nonsense. Little did we know that, you know, no one at Caltech really had the courage to tell Linus it was wrong, no matter what, how good a school it was, Linus was like the Pope, and it wasn't a way to, Linus wasn't used to people saying he was wrong.
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Although the chemistry was wrong, Linus Pauling's triple-stranded DNA model was a catalyst for James Watson and Francis Crick to solve the structure of DNA.
In 1952, Peter Pauling was a student at Cambridge when his father, Linus, sent him a paper proposing that DNA was a triple helix. James (Jim) Watson eagerly read the paper and realized that Pauling got it wrong.
James Watson talks about how he and Francis Crick decided whose name went first on the 1953 paper.
Linus Pauling's triple-helix model for DNA and the reaction to this incorrect model.
DNA base pairs
1953 picture of Francis Crick (L) and James Watson (R) walking along the backs of King's College in Cambridge.
James Watson and Francis Crick, Cambridge University, 1953
James Watson talks about his partnership with Francis Crick.
James Watson describes the triple helix model proposed by Linus Pauling.
James Watson talks about who he thinks should have won the Nobel Prize in 1962.