Dr Kersten Hall

Visiting Fellow

Summary: Origins and Development of Molecular Biology (esp. the Role Played by Physicists); Debates Concerning the Interpretation and Influence of Gregor Mendel and His Role in the Origin of Genetics.

Kersten Hall studied Biochemistry at St. Anne’s College, Oxford before undertaking a PhD and subsequent post-doctoral research in molecular biology at the University of Leeds. He is now an Honorary Fellow in the School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science and his recent book ‘The Man in the Monkeynut Coat’ (Oxford University Press, 2014) tells the story of the physicist William Astbury who, from initial studies of wool fibres made an early attempt to solve the structure of DNA and whose pioneering role in the emergence of molecular biology has long been overlooked. The book was featured on a list of recommended titles for 2014 in ‘The Guardian’ newspaper (http://www.theguardian.com/science/occams-corner/2015/jan/01/books-of-the-year-2014) and was also shortlisted for the British Society for History of Science 2015 Dingle Prize.

Kersten has spoken on both local and national BBC radio and regularly gives public lectures on a number of different themes including the Nobel prize winning work of the physicists William and Lawrence Bragg whose development of X-ray crystallography has transformed our understanding of the physical world, and how research done at Leeds by the chemists Archer Martin and Richard Synge into the chemical composition of wool earned them the 1952 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and led to key discoveries in biology and medicine such as understanding the chemistry of DNA and the hormone insulin.

In collaboration with Professor Staffan Mueller-Wille (University of Exeter) and with the support of the British Society for History of Science, he is also working on a new translation from German into English of the seminal work by the monk Gregor Mendel on plant hybrids which is widely hailed as being the starting point of modern genetics and is due for publication soon. Thanks to his interest in German, he has also given a number of talks to various Anglo-German groups on the impact of scientists from the German-speaking world, such as Erwin Schrodinger and Max Perutz on the rise of molecular biology.


Did William Astbury take Photo 51 before Rosalind Franklin?

What is the double-helical structure of DNA and who was William Astbury?


'Forgotten Hero of DNA's Discovery', 'The Guardian', Fri 18th Sept, 2015(http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/sep/17/william-astbury-forgotten-hero-of-dnas-discovery)

‘Drops No More - New Blood Sugar Sensor’

'The Man in the Monkeynut Coat' - Leeds Big Bookend Festival

"Science Book a Day interviews Kersten Hall" ScienceBookaDay, 5th December 2014(http://sciencebookaday.com/?s=kersten+hall&submit=Search)

"Watson and Crick took all the glory but there's a forgotten hero of the double helix", The Conversation, 3rd July 2014
(http://theconversation.com/watson-and-crick-took-all-the-glory-but-theres-a-forgotten-hero-of-the-double-helix-28536 )

"The Man in the Monkeynut Coat and the Men in the Yellow Jerseys", OUP blog, 28th June, 2014(http://blog.oup.com/2014/06/the-man-in-the-monkeynut-coat/ )

"Celebrating the work of a neglected scientificpioneer", University of Leeds, 17th June, 2014(http://www.leeds.ac.uk/news/article/3541/celebrating_the_work_of_a_neglected_scientific_pioneer )

"From Dark Satanic Mills to DNA" - public lecture given at the Bragg Centenary Celebration, University of Leeds, February 2013
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndfhUfSac6Y )

Academic Publications

"William Astbury and the biological significance of nucleic acids, 1938-1951" (2011) Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences. Vol. 42 Issue 2, pp.119-128.