Raymond Gosling on Seeing the Watson-Crick Double Helix Model
  Raymond Gosling     Biography    
Recorded: 03 Mar 2003

Well, now that people have asked me that because you see we went up there together. You know, I can’t remember whether I was standing beside her [Rosalind Franklin]. I wish I did because in that film, Life Story they have her there and “Daddy” [Sir Lawrence] Bragg comes in the back and dear Sir Lawrence says very gently, “How do you feel about it?” And the sort of thing that she said then are the sort of things she would have said but I wish I could have been there to remember. I know that she was firmly of the opinion—which a lot of scientists have—which dates back to Newton,* that we all stand on each other’s shoulders. And I think, you know, with this—Jim’s docu-soap novel, The Double Helix, he has people doing and saying things which they sometimes say they didn’t. But he knew them all so well [that] they are the sort of things they would have done and said.

And I think it’s interesting, you go right back to Newton. This remark he had, which has gone into the history books, that was triggered out of him in a quarrel with Robert Hook. Robert Hook, the Reverend Robert Hook, was a very important scientist, contemporary with Newton. And he was small and misshapen and Newton was tall and fair and rather aristocratic. And Hook was needling Newton about something and he apparently turned around and said, “If I have seen further (implied than you) it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants,” inferring [that] I have no need of you, you pygmy. But it’s been now polished up and even is around the outside of our two-pound coin, “standing on the shoulder of giants.”

But she used that, she introduced me to that expression. And she was very aware of the shoulders we were immediately standing on. Or you think of [Werner] Ehrenberg and [Walter] Spear who produced the micro-focus X-ray tube. No, Ehrenberg and Spear, we wouldn’t have been able to take single fiber X-ray diffraction diagrams. We wouldn’t have had spotty pictures and Jim would have chosen another problem to get a Nobel Prize on. I wish—well that’s what he would have done. I mean he was determined, he was full of energy. But it’s interesting to me to think of the shoulders that were there that were propping up this discovery.

Her [Franklin’s] reaction was: we went back to our Pattersons and there it was. So it was right! She never said to me, “Oh gosh! I wish we’d got there first.” Her view very much was science—you see she was not a religious person. She was Jewish but she wasn’t particularly, she wasn’t a devout orthodox person. And if anything she was an atheist which I gathered caused—I didn’t at the time, but I gathered caused tension in her family. But for her science was a central truth and a central beauty in life. And I think, I can’t remember for sure, but I have that feeling that she too thought it was so beautiful. And it was a triumph. It was a triumph that what we should have taken one step nearer the truth. What saddens me is that she couldn’t have been at this meeting [2003 CSHL Meeting, The Biology of DNA] because she would have by now, I mean, in the thick of it, I’m sure, and contributing. But she would have been so intrigued, I think, to see how wide spread the utility of that understanding has become.

Raymond Gosling arrived at King’s lab in 1949 to work as a research student. Under the direction of Rosalind Franklin, he helped to perfect the technique of x-ray diffraction photography to obtain the A and B form images of DNA. Gosling met Watson when he arrived in Wilkins’s lab to review DNA diffraction images.

After completing his Ph.D., Gosling left King’s to teach physics at Queens’ College in Cambridge, at the University of St. Andrews, and at the University of the West Indies. He returned to the UK in 1967 to become professor and eventually emeritus professor in Physics Applied to Medicine at the Guy’s Hospital Medical School.

Raymond Gosling has dedicated much of his time researching the elasticity of the arterial system in order to develop tests to monitor one’s risk of stroke and heart attack.