T. Astbury was a physicist who pioneered the use of X-rays to explore
the structures of biological macromolecules found within living cells.
In so doing, he not only made the very first attempt to solve the
structure of DNA, the molecule of heredity, but also popularised a new
approach to the study of living systems - molecular biology -which
sought to understand organisms in terms of the giant chain molecules of
which they were composed.
was fondly remembered by his colleague R.D.Preston as being 'a man of
many parts - scientist, scholar, musician, bon viveur, humorist, in
some ways a swashbuckler'. Such
was his scientific prowess and reputation that the Nobel Prize winning
Austrian scientist Max Perutz once hailed Astbury's laboratory at Leeds
as 'the X-ray Vatican'. Why then have we heard so little about him? One
possible answer to this question may be because the history of
science is very often one which is 'written by the winners', as Dr.
Kersten Hall, author of 'The Man in the Monkeynut Coat: William Astbury and
the Forgotten Road to the Double-Helix' (Oxford University Press)
explains in an interview which you can read here.
In 2010, the Museum
of History of Science, Technology and Medicine
at the University of Leeds organised an exhibition exploring Astbury's
work. You can explore the contents of the exhibition here and use the 'Contents' menu on the left of this page to explore various other aspects of Astbury's life and work.
Website constructed and written by K. Hall and E.Winterburn, Centre
for History and Philosophy of Science, University of Leeds
Page last updated: 03/03/2015