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Arthur Fleischmann: travelling sculptor

Part 4: Art imitates biology - inspiration from DNA

In May of 2003 a distinguished group of Nobel Laureates gathered in the Foyer of the Strand Campus of King’s College London (that adjoins the Courtauld buildings at Somerset House) to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the discovery of DNA. Those present included James Watson, Ray Gosling, Herbert Wilson and Maurice Wilkins. The press photographs show them arm in arm smiling broadly. It was not the same picture in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s when they competed fiercely in the race to be first to define the geometric and topological properties of the DNA molecule. At that time, they would hardly acknowledge each other.

Many scientists and technicians support those few that finally have the glory of the Nobel Prize. The prize can never reflect accurately the contributions made by so many. In the case of the discovery of DNA there is a danger that the work of one particular scientist by the name of Rosalind Franklin may be overlooked. She did not receive the Nobel Prize with Watson, Crick and Wilkins in 1962 because of a technicality. Franklin had died three years earlier in 1958 and the Governance of the prize prohibited the award being bestowed posthumously. There has always been a feeling that Franklin had been badly treated in 1953 at the time of the announcement of the discovery, and her crucial contribution had always been under played by the final prize recipients. In a gesture that effectively admits the guilt felt by the Laureates, as part of the anniversary celebrations the new Franklin Wilkins Building of King’s College was officially opened.

Had my father been alive, I feel sure he would have wanted to be there too - and I feel sure he would have approved of the honour bestowed on Franklin. As a medical doctor by training, Fleischmann had no doubt studied Darwinian Theories of Evolution. Darwin’s predecessor Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) lived and worked in Hyncice (in what is now the Czech Republic).

My father was so struck by the significance and symbolism of the discovery of DNA that he was inspired to create several sculptures composing a series all entitled "Homage to the Discovery of DNA".

The subject of genetics was a strong presence during my childhood - books and articles were all over the house. I felt so close to my destiny when I studied at King’s College London in the Physics Department where so many of the crucial experiments and calculations were performed to determine the double helical structure of the molecule.

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