Zooming in on the molecules of life

bob audioBroadcaster: Radio 4

Year: 2018


Duration: 30 mins

URL: https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/120946
also available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09r4c8f

Review by Peter Watson

The remit of Radio 4 series The Life Scientific is to “interview the most fascinating and important scientists alive and find out what makes them tick”. It provides a fascinating mix of biography and science and really helps to get behind what drives researchers to study the things that they do.

In a recent edition host Prof Al-Khalili spoke with pioneer of Cryo-Electron Microscopy (Cryo-EM), Dr Richard Henderson, about his life and work. The interview is very timely as Cryo-EM has undergone a revolution of late and Richard Henderson along with Jacques Dubochet and Joachim Frank were awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for their work on developing Cryo-EM. It also provides a good introduction to the Cryo-EM as a method and offers plenty of history about its development from the early days to the present cutting edge.

As ever, the program started with an exploration of Richard’s early life and education. He describes growing up in the Scottish Borders spending his time in the outdoors exploring and cycling. What comes across strongly is not that Richard Henderson had a clear idea from an early age what he wanted to do but that he enjoyed school and placed great value on his education. After school Richard studied Physics as an undergraduate in Edinburgh and then moved to the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC LMB) in Cambridge in 1973 to study for his PhD. Continue reading


Life Story: Solving the structure of DNA


Watson and Crick discuss whether to tell Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin about their research

Broadcaster: BBC4

Year: 2004
(originally broadcast 1987 on BBC2)

Genre: Dramatisation

Length: 01:46:24

URL: https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/30025
In the late 1980s, Horizon, the BBC’s flagship science series, took the unusual step of producing a feature length retelling of the events of 1951-52 leading to James Watson and Francis Crick solving the structure of DNA.

Inspired by Watson’s memoir The Double Helix, and with a screenplay by  William Nicholson (who later went on to write the script for Gladiator), the production starred Jeff Goldblum as Watson, Tim Pigott-Smith as Crick and Juliet Stevenson as Rosalind Franklin.

A colleague recommends that students watch this on their own as a “flipped teaching” exercise prior to more academic sessions on DNA structure.

The film is known in the USA as “The race for the double helix” and is listed on IMDB under that name. The most recent transmission of this programme pre-dates Box of Broadcasts, and this copy is uploaded from a VHS copy. In consequence, the quality is sub-optimal, but clear enough.