Open main menu

Alexander (Alec) Rawson Stokes (23 november 1996) was a co-author of the second[1] of the three papers published sequentially in Nature on 25 April 1953[2] announcing the presumed molecular structure of DNA. The first was authored by Francis Crick and James Watson,[3] and the third by Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling.[4] The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded in 1962 to Crick, Watson, and Wilkins for this work.

In 1993, on the 40th anniversary of the publication of the molecular structure of DNA, a plaque was erected in the Quad (courtyard) of the Strand campus of King's College London commemorating the contributions of Franklin, Gosling, Stokes, Wilson, and Wilkins to "DNA X-ray diffraction studies".

Early life and educationEdit

Stokes was born in Macclesfield, Cheshire. He studied at Cheadle Hulme School in Manchester. He received a first-class degree in the natural science tripos in 1940 at Trinity College Cambridge and then researched X-ray crystallography of Imperfect Crystals for his PhD in 1943 under the supervision of Lawrence Bragg at the Cavendish Laboratory.[5][6]

Scientific workEdit

Stokes lectured in physics at Royal Holloway College, London before joining John Randall's Biophysics Research Unit at King's College London in 1947. He has been credited,[7][8] as being the first person to demonstrate that the DNA molecule was probably helical in shape. Maurice Wilkins wrote in his autobiography (page 160) [9] that he asked Stokes to predict what a helical structure would look like as an x-ray diffraction photograph, and that he was able to determine this by the next day through mathematical calculations made during a short train journey. Stokes continued to work on optical diffraction in large biological molecules. His publications include the books The Theory of the Optical Properties of Inhomogeneous Materials. London: E. and F.N. Spon Ltd, (1963) and The Principles of Atomic and Nuclear Physics C.J. Smith and A.R. Stokes, London, Edward Arnold, (1972) ISBN 0-7131-2313-3.[10]

Later lifeEdit

Stokes retired from King's College London as a senior lecturer in 1982. He wrote extensively, and his books include The Principles Of Atomic And Nuclear Physics (1972), and The Theory Of The Optical Properties Of Inhomogeneous Materials (1963). He was a choral singer, played the piano and was an elder in his local free church, in Welwyn Garden City.[11]


  1. ^ Wilkins, M. H. F.; Stokes, A. R.; Wilson, H. R. (1953). "Molecular structure of nucleic acids: molecular structure of deoxypentose nucleic acids" (PDF). Nature. 171 (4356): 738–740. Bibcode:1953Natur.171..738W. doi:10.1038/171738a0. PMID 13054693.
  2. ^ Nature Archive. Double Helix: 50 years of DNA
  3. ^ Watson, J. D.; Crick, F. H. C. (1953). "Molecular structure of nucleic acids: a structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid" (PDF). Nature. 171 (4356): 737–738. Bibcode:1953Natur.171..737W. doi:10.1038/171737a0. PMID 13054692.
  4. ^ Franklin, Rosalind E.; Gosling, R. G. (1953). "Molecular configuration in sodium thymonucleate" (PDF). Nature. 171 (4356): 740–741. Bibcode:1953Natur.171..740F. doi:10.1038/171740a0. PMID 13054694.
  5. ^ "Alexander Stokes". The Telegraph. 28 February 2003. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  6. ^ Robert, Walgate (13 March 2003). "Modest, neglected DNA pioneer dies". The Scientist. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  7. ^ Daily Telegraph Obituaries. 28 Feb 2003
  8. ^ Profiles in Science (National Library of Medicine): Letter from FHC Crick to JD Watson dated 3lst March, 1966, (Page 6) [1] (accessed 29 May 2014)
  9. ^ Wilkins, Maurice, The Third Man of the Double Helix: The Autobiography of Maurice Wilkins. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-19-860665-6.
  10. ^ Wilson, Herbert R. (January 2004). "Obituary: Alexander Rawson Stokes". Physics Today. 57 (1): 67–68. Bibcode:2004PhT....57a..67W. doi:10.1063/1.1650080.
  11. ^

Further readingEdit

  • Chomet, Seweryn (1995). D.N.A. : Genesis of a Discovery. London, England: Newman-Hemisphere. ISBN 978-1-567001-38-9.
  • Wilkins, Maurice (2003). The Third Man of the Double Helix : Memoirs of a Life in Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-860665-9.
  • Ridley, Matt (2006). Francis Crick : Discoverer of the Genetic Code (1st ed.). New York: Atlas Books. ISBN 978-0-06-082333-7.
  • Tait, S.A.S.; Tait, J.F. (2004). A Quartet of Unlikely Discoveries : the Double Helix, the Pill, a Pinch of Salt, then Saturation. London: Athena Press. ISBN 978-1-84401-343-2.

External linksEdit