Alec Stokes

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Alec Stokes
Alexander Rawson Stokes

(1919-06-27)27 June 1919
Died5 February 2003(2003-02-05) (aged 83)
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge
Known forMolecular structure of DNA
Spouse(s)Margaret Stokes
Children2 sons and 1 daughter
Scientific career
FieldsPhysics, biophysics
InstitutionsRoyal Holloway College, London
King's College London
ThesisImperfect Crystals (1944)
Doctoral advisorLawrence Bragg
Other academic advisorsJohn Randall

Alexander Rawson Stokes (27 June 1919 – 6 February 2003) was a British physicist at Royal Holloway College, London and later at King's College London.[1][2] He was most recognised as a co-author of the second[3] of the three papers published sequentially in Nature on 25 April 1953[4] describing the correct molecular structure of DNA. The first was authored by Francis Crick and James Watson,[5] and the third by Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling.

In 1993, on the 40th anniversary of the publication of the molecular structure of DNA, a plaque was erected in the Quad (courtyard) of the Strand campus of King's College London, commemorating the contributions of Franklin, Gosling, Stokes, Wilson, and Wilkins to "DNA X-ray diffraction studies".

Early life and education[edit]

Known by the name Alec,[6][7][8] Stokes was born in Macclesfield, Cheshire. He studied at Cheadle Hulme School in Manchester. He received a first-class degree in the natural science tripos in 1940 at Trinity College, Cambridge and then researched X-ray crystallography of Imperfect Crystals for his PhD in 1943 under the supervision of Lawrence Bragg at the Cavendish Laboratory.[9][10]

Scientific work[edit]

Stokes lectured in physics at Royal Holloway College, London before joining John Randall's Biophysics Research Unit at King's College London in 1947. He has been credited[9][11] as being the first person to demonstrate that the DNA molecule was probably helical in shape. Maurice Wilkins wrote in his autobiography[12] that he asked Stokes to predict what a helical structure would look like as an x-ray diffraction photograph, and that he was able to determine this by the next day through mathematical calculations made during a short train journey. Stokes continued to work on optical diffraction in large biological molecules. His publications include the books The Theory of the Optical Properties of Inhomogeneous Materials. London: E. and F.N. Spon Ltd, (1963) and The Principles of Atomic and Nuclear Physics C.J. Smith and A.R. Stokes, London, Edward Arnold, (1972) ISBN 0-7131-2313-3.[1]

Later life[edit]

Stokes retired from King's College London as a senior lecturer in 1982. He was a choral singer, played the piano and was an elder in his local free church, in Welwyn Garden City.[13] He died on 5 February 2003,[1] survived by his wife, Margaret, two sons, Gordon Stokes and Ian Stokes and a daughter, Jean Stokes.[9]


  1. ^ a b c Wilson, Herbert R. (January 2004). "Obituary: Alexander Rawson Stokes". Physics Today. 57 (1): 67–68. Bibcode:2004PhT....57a..67W. doi:10.1063/1.1650080.
  2. ^ "A photo that changed the world". Retrieved 8 November 2020.
  3. ^ Wilkins, M. H. F.; Stokes, A. R.; Wilson, H. R. (1953). "Molecular structure of nucleic acids: molecular structure of deoxypentose nucleic acids" (PDF). Nature. 171 (4356): 738–740. Bibcode:1953Natur.171..738W. doi:10.1038/171738a0. PMID 13054693. S2CID 4280080.
  4. ^ "Double Helix: 50 years of DNA". Nature. Nature Publishing Group. Archived from the original on 22 May 2015.
  5. ^ Watson, J. D.; Crick, F. H. C. (1953). "Molecular structure of nucleic acids: a structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid" (PDF). Nature. 171 (4356): 737–738. Bibcode:1953Natur.171..737W. doi:10.1038/171737a0. PMID 13054692. S2CID 4253007.
  6. ^ "Papers of M H F Wilkins: notes by Raymond Gosling and Alec Stokes". Wellcome Library. Retrieved 8 November 2020.
  7. ^ Wright, Pearce (15 February 2003). "Obituary: Alexander Stokes". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 November 2020.
  8. ^ "Alec Stokes". The Sunday Times. 5 March 2003. Retrieved 8 November 2020.
  9. ^ a b c "Alexander Stokes". The Telegraph. 28 February 2003. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  10. ^ Robert, Walgate (13 March 2003). "Modest, neglected DNA pioneer dies". The Scientist. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  11. ^ Crick, Francis (31 March 1966). "Notes concerning Watson's book, "The Double Helix"". Letter to James D. Watson. p. 6. Retrieved 3 November 2019 – via U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  12. ^ Wilkins, Maurice (2003). The Third Man of the Double Helix: The Autobiography of Maurice Wilkins. Oxford University Press. p. 160. ISBN 0-19-860665-6.
  13. ^ Wright, Pearce (15 February 2003). "Alexander Stokes". The Guardian.

Further reading[edit]

  • Chomet, Seweryn (1995). D.N.A. : Genesis of a Discovery. London, England: Newman-Hemisphere. ISBN 978-1-567001-38-9.
  • Wilkins, Maurice (2003). The Third Man of the Double Helix : Memoirs of a Life in Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-860665-9.
  • Ridley, Matt (2006). Francis Crick : Discoverer of the Genetic Code (1st ed.). New York: Atlas Books. ISBN 978-0-06-082333-7.
  • Tait, S.A.S.; Tait, J.F. (2004). A Quartet of Unlikely Discoveries : the Double Helix, the Pill, a Pinch of Salt, then Saturation. London: Athena Press. ISBN 978-1-84401-343-2.

External links[edit]