Francis Crick (1916-2004): archives

  • Crick, Francis Harry Compton (1916-2004)
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


PP/CRI documents the course of Francis Crick's career through extensive files of correspondence, scientific notes, writings in draft, laboratory notebooks, and papers relating to scientific meetings attended, over a period of more than fifty years. Researchers can trace both the emergence of molecular biology as a scientific discipline, and Crick's formative and central role as a scientific theorist.

Unpublished "Notes" of the RNA Tie Club and Crick's PhD thesis, Polypeptides and Proteins: X-Ray Studies (1953), supplement more familiar published papers. Whilst the archive is a collection of scientific papers, it also contains miscellaneous personal material, such as greetings cards, travel ephemera, photographs, and the telegram that brought news of a Nobel Prize. Correspondence files trace the currents of thought and experiment that determined the development of molecular biology in the second half of the twentieth century. With their candidness, insight, humour and occasional abrasiveness, Crick's letters bear the stamp of his personality. Scientific notes and papers in variant drafts reveal something of the process of composition and the habit of thought that produced the directness and clarity characteristic of his published work.

Material from the collection has been digitised for the National Library of Medicine's 'Profiles in Science' website and can be viewed online.



Physical description

331 boxes, 12 oversize items (2,247 items in total), 3 digital items 181 MB (190676547 bytes)


PP/CRI has been arranged as follows:
A Personal Material
B Medical Research Council
C Salk Institute for Biological Studies
D Correspondence
E Travels and Meetings
F Doctorate
G Notebooks
H Notes and Drafts
I Publications
J Correspondence 1976-2002
K Travel and Lectures 1982-1999
L Notes, Drafts and Models [1976]-2001
M Publications 1950-2001
N Societies

Through force of circumstance the archive was catalogued in three separate batches. The first batch (sections A-I) focuses mainly on Crick's DNA and genetic code research, and the second (sections J-M) on his shift in the late 1970s to theoretical research into neurobiology, particularly consciousness. The third batch largely continues the series of records in sections J-M up to Crick's death in 2004, but also contained some earlier material which has been slotted into the appropriate series in sections A-I.

The arrangement reflects an order revealed rather than an order imposed. Specifically, the titles of the two largest Sections - Travels and Meetings (PP/CRI/E) and Notes and Drafts (PP/CRI/H) - are Crick's. Whilst not all files now placed in these two Sections were so kept, a sufficiently large proportion of them were for the application of Crick's headings - backwards and forwards in time as required - to be unforced and practical. Together with the Correspondence file sequences (arranged as found), Travels and Meetings, and Notes and Drafts provide a chronological spine to the archive, documenting closely the matters and the occasions, that occupied Crick's attention over time.

Not surprisingly, for some time after his move to the Salk Institute in 1977 Crick found it hard to persuade the scientific community that he had moved to a new intellectual challenge. In addition, he was inevitably asked to lecture on his DNA work throughout his life, with the result that material on this theme appears in the phase of papers documenting his neurobiological work. Wherever possible, the catalogue points readers to related documents in other sections of the archive, but readers should also be aware of this potential overlap when searching the catalogue. For example, while section J contains the main series of alphabetical correspondence for 1984 onwards, there is also a little correspondence for 1984-1985 in section D.

Acquisition note

The materials that comprise PP/CRI were purchased from Dr Francis Crick by the Wellcome Trust, with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund, in December 2001.

Biographical note


Francis Harry Compton Crick was born 8 June, 1916, in Northampton, England, the elder child of Harry Crick and Annie Elizabeth Wilkins. He was educated at Northampton Grammar School and Mill Hill School, London. Subsequently, Crick studied physics at University College London (UCL), obtaining his BSc in 1937. He remained at UCL, and commenced doctoral research under Professor E N da C Andrade, investigating the viscosity of water at temperatures above 100ºC, but his study was interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1939.

During World War II, Crick was a scientist at the British Admiralty Research Laboratory, working on non-contact magnetic and acoustic mines. He continued to work at the Admiralty immediately after the war. In 1947, he obtained a Medical Council Research Studentship and re-commenced graduate study, this time at Strangeways Laboratory in Cambridge. There, he worked under Arthur Hughes, studying the physical properties of cytoplasm in cultured fibroblast cells, but did not submit a dissertation. During this period, Crick began to read widely and purposefully in biology and chemistry, developing a particular interest in the nature of genetic material and in protein structure. In June, 1949, Crick joined the staff of the Medical Research Council Unit at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge. With the encouragement of Sir Edward Mellenby, Secretary to the MRC, he also re-registered his research degree at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.

At the Cavendish, headed by Sir Lawrence Bragg, Crick joined a small team that included Max Perutz and John Kendrew, investigating the structure of proteins through X-ray crystallography, an investigative technique which was then entirely new to Crick. He proved a rapid learner. Together with W Cochran and V Vand, Crick determined the general theory of X-ray diffraction patterns produced by continuous and discontinuous helices. The theory of helices formed a major component of his PhD thesis, by now entirely concerned with X-ray crystallography. Drafted during 1952-53, X-ray diffraction: polypeptides and proteins was submitted to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, in July, 1953, shortly after the publication of his first papers with James D Watson on the structure of DNA.

James Watson came to the Cavendish Laboratory in the autumn of 1951 as a young man of twenty-three, with a PhD in genetics and an equally passionate interest in identifying the structure of genetic material. Drawing upon experimental data produced at King's College by Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins, Crick and Watson published four papers during 1953-54, in which they elaborated a double-helical structure for DNA, and postulated a relationship between that structure and the transmission of genetic information.

Crick continued to explore the structure of other molecules, in his work on collagen with Alexander Rich (from 1955), and further work with Watson on the structure of viruses (1956). He also continued to explore practical and theoretical aspects of crystallography, collaborating with Beatrice Magdoff on isomorphous replacement (1956). The majority of his attention, however, was given to understanding the way in which genetic information is encoded in DNA, and the manner of its determination of protein formation. During the 1950s and 1960s, Crick published a number of influential theoretical papers which addressed the transfer of genetic information, including: "On degenerate templates and the adaptor hypothesis: a note for the RNA Tie Club" (privately circulated, 1955), "On protein synthesis" (1958), "General nature of the genetic code for proteins" (1961), "On the genetic code" (1962), "Codon-anticodon pairing: the wobble hypothesis" (1966), and "The central dogma of molecular biology" (1970).

In February 1962, Crick and Sydney Brenner took joint charge of the Molecular Genetics Division, at the newly-opened Laboratory of Molecular Biology, in Cambridge. Brenner and Crick had worked together since Brenner's arrival from South Africa, in 1956, when he joined the MRC Unit at the Cavendish. Together, they established, in 1961, through genetic work with acridine mutants, that the genetic code had a triple ratio. Under Crick and Brenner, the Molecular Genetics Division concentrated its research on the genetics and biochemistry of control mechanisms in cellular development. Brenner began comprehensive research on Caenorhabditis elegans, a small (1 mm long) soil nematode, establishing it as a powerful experimental system for the analysis of complex biological processes. Crick became interested in embryogenesis and in chromosome structure. By now, he was in great demand as a speaker, a role in which he excelled, and he regularly undertook, in addition to his work at Cambridge, a considerable number of lecture engagements across the world.

From 1976-1977, Crick was Ferkhauf Foundation Visiting Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, a privately-funded research institute based at La Jolla, California. From 1977, his position there became permanent with his appointment as J W Kieckhefer Distinguished Research Professor. His decision to leave Cambridge grew from a longstanding involvement with the work of the American Institute and a desire to tackle a fresh field of study: the neurobiological basis of consciousness. In 1962, Crick had become a Non-Resident Fellow of the newly-formed Salk Institute (the first laboratory was opened in 1963). In addition to Crick, the first faculty of resident and non-resident Fellows gathered by Jonas Salk included Jacob Bronowski, Melvin Cohn, Renato Dulbecco, Edwin Lennox, Leslie Orgel, Leo Szilard, Salvador Luria, Jaques Monod, and Warren Weaver. From 1962 until 1976, Crick made regular trips to the Salk Institute, often incorporating his time there with other American academic commitments. Crick also served as President of the Salk Institute (1994-1995).

After moving to America, Crick published a number of papers in neurobiology. Proceeding from the position that consciousness derives from bio-chemical reactions in the brain, Crick rejected a 'black-box' approach, electing to begin - as he and Watson had done many years before with DNA - from an understanding of physical structure. Crick worked closely with Christoph Koch and others on the neural basis of attention to discover the neural correlates of consciousness.

In 1940 Crick married Ruth Doreen Dodd, with whom he had a son, Michael. The marriage was dissolved in 1947, and in 1949 he married Odile Speed, with whom he had two daughters, Gabrielle and Jacqueline.

Crick died on 28 July 2004 at Thornton Hospital, San Diego.

In addition to his many scientific papers, Crick published: Of Molecules and Men (1966), Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature (1981), What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery (1988), and The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul (1994).

Awards and Honours
In 1962, Crick shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins, in recognition of their respective contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA. Although Crick consistently declined honorary degrees, he was the recipient of a number of awards and honours. They include: Fellow of the Royal Society (1959), Warren Triennial Prize (1959), Albert Lasker Award (1960), Le Prix Charles-Léopold Mayer (1961), Royal Society Royal Medal (1972), Royal Society Copley Medal (1975), Order of Merit (1991), and University of California (San Diego Division of Biological Sciences) inaugural Life Sciences Achievement Award (2003). Francis Crick was a Fellow of University College, London, Honorary Fellow of Churchill College Cambridge, and Honorary Fellow of Caius College, Cambridge.

Related material

At Wellcome Collection:

The papers of Dr Gerard R Wyatt (collection reference PP/GRW), which include laboratory notebooks containing details of experiments on the structure and composition of nucleic acids and their constituent bases. Wyatt's experimental work is cited in footnote 4 to the first Watson and Crick paper, "Molecular structure of nucleic acids: a structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid," Nature, 171 (1953), 737-8. Crick subsequently remarked, in interview: "The data of Chargaff's, you know, wasn't all that convincing unless you wanted to believe it [...] until Wyatt came along and boosted it up" (Judson, The Eighth Day of Creation, 1979, p. 179).

The papers of Dr H. Vivian Wyatt (collection reference PP/HVW), which largely comprise materials relating to Dr H. V. Wyatt's article on the reception of Oswald Avery's 1944 DNA research, 'When does information become knowledge?', Nature 235 (1972): 86–89.

Cambridge University: Churchill Archives Centre:

  • Correspondence between Crick and AV Hill, 1947-1962
  • Papers relating to Crick's work at the Medical Research Council Unit for the Study of Molecular Biology, Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, 1953-1969
  • Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Library, New York:

  • A collection of Crick's papers comprising nine archive boxes of correspondence, photographs, postcards, preprints, reprints, meetings programmes, notes and newspaper cuttings, 1950-1976 (largely mid-1950s - mid-1960s) discovered in 2010 among Sydney Brenner's archive.
  • Stanford University Libraries, Department of Special Collections:

  • The archive of the System Development Foundation (Palo Alto, Calif.), 1957-1993 (collection reference M0504) contains material relating to grants made to Crick.
  • Terms of use

    This collection has been catalogued and is available to library members. Some items have access restrictions which are explained in the item-level catalogue records.

    Language note


    Location of duplicates

    A digitised copy is held by Wellcome Collection as part of Codebreakers: Makers of Modern Genetics. Material from the collection has been digitised for the National Library of Medicine's 'Profiles in Science' website and can be viewed online at

    Where to find it

    • LocationStatusAccess
      Closed stores
      RestrictedCan't be requested

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    Accession number

    • 1060
    • 1107
    • 1345
    • 1419
    • 1494
    • 1778