Modest, neglected DNA pioneer dies

Mathematical physicist Alec Stokes dies, aged 83.

Robert Walgate(
Mar 12, 2003

Alec Stokes, diffident, neglected but central author of the revolutionary work that revealed the double helix structure of DNA, published in Nature April 25, 1953, has died nearly 50 years later.

Stokes was born June 27, 1919. He was educated at Cheadle Hulme School in Manchester and Trinity College, Cambridge. He did his doctoral research at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge.

During the critical period of research into the structure of DNA, Stokes was a mathematical physicist at the Wheatstone Physics Laboratory at King's College London, which he had joined in 1947. Maurice Wilkins also worked there, and Stokes co-authored with Wilkins and Herbert Wilson, the Nature paper that followed Francis Crick and James Watson's, and gave X-ray evidence for the helical structure Crick and Watson had proposed. The paper by Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling (with much clearer pictures) notoriously came third.

Herbert Wilson told The Scientist how...