Alec Stokes

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Alec Stokes
Alexander Rawson Stokes

(1919-06-27)27 June 1919
Died6 February 2003(2003-02-06) (aged 83)
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge
Known forMolecular structure of DNA
Spouse(s)Margaret Stokes
Scientific career
FieldsPhysics, biophysics
InstitutionsRoyal Holloway College, London
King's College London
ThesisImperfect Crystals (1944)
Doctoral advisorLawrence Bragg
Other academic advisorsJohn Randall

Alexander "Alec" 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 wrote extensively, and his books include The Principles Of Atomic And Nuclear Physics (1972), and The Theory Of The Optical Properties Of Inhomogeneous Materials (1963). He was a choral singer, played the piano and was an elder in his local free church, in Welwyn Garden City.[13]

Stokes died on 5 February 2003.[1] He was 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]