Retro light fitting or model of a virus? In the latest of our looks at the story behind an image from the MRC archive, Ellen Charman finds out how this collection of giant ping pong balls is linked to Rosalind Franklin’s less well-known research understanding the structure of viruses.
John Ernest and his poliovirus structure (Copyright: MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology)
This image, taken at Birkbeck College in 1958, shows the sculptor John Ernest dwarfed by one of his models of the poliovirus, which is seemingly made from giant pingpong balls.
The five-foot model, together with one of the tobacco mosaic virus, was exhibited at the International Science Pavilion of the Brussels’ World Exhibition in 1958, the first major World’s Fair after World War 2. Earlier versions had indeed been made out of ping pong balls and plastic bicycle handlebar grips. Read more
Photo 51 (Image copyright: King’s College London)
Sixty years ago today a paper describing the structure of DNA was published in Nature. Photo 51 was important to Watson and Crick’s discovery, and is surely the most famous x-ray crystallography image in the world. But what do its shadows and cruciform spots actually mean? Katherine Nightingale met King’s College London Professor of Molecular Biophysics Brian Sutton for an explanation of both the image and its history.
When and where was Photo 51 taken?
It was taken in May 1952 by Rosalind Franklin and her PhD student Raymond Gosling at the MRC Biophysics Unit. Franklin, a biophysicist, had been recruited to the unit to work on the structure of DNA. The unit was then part of the King’s College campus on the Strand in London and was run by Sir John Randall, who had turned some of the university’s physics department over to studying biological problems. More literally, it was taken three floors down in the basement underneath the chemistry laboratories, below the level of the Thames.
The MRC Biophysics Unit moved to Drury Lane in the 1960s and later became the Randall Institute. I now work in its most recent incarnation — the Randall Division of Cell and Molecular Biophysics. So photo 51 is doubly significant for me: I’m an x-ray crystallographer so it’s part of my heritage in that respect, but all of us in the division are proud of this link with the work in the 1950s. Read more
This article was first published in the Centenary edition of Network.