Francis Crick will be able to ring in the holidays in style: The DNA pioneer has sold a large collection of his scientific papers for $1.3 million, the Wellcome Trust announced today. The buyer of the prized paper trail, the British biomedical charity's Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine in London, intends to provide free public access to the documents.
Crick shared a Nobel prize with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins for their discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953. Crick's notes are expected to help science historians shed more light on the interactions and contributions of the scientists behind the landmark achievement. The purchase includes lab notebooks from the 1950s, Crick's correspondence with other luminaries--including Max Perutz, Peter Medawar, and Jonas Salk--and a draft manuscript of Watson's controversial book The Double Helix, reportedly with angry notes that Crick scribbled in the margins.
A bidding war between Wellcome and a private collector, Jeremy Norman, drove up the price, says library director David Pearson. But Pearson, whose library was able to tap National Lottery money to fund the purchase, says the price is reasonable for such high-quality material. Others agree. The important thing is to acquire the materials for the public, not complain about the market that sets their price, says Peter Harper, director of the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists at the University of Bath, United Kingdom.
Crick, 85, declined to be interviewed. But Wellcome issued a statement in which Crick said: "The money will go to my heirs--three children and six grandchildren--all of whom seem to be in need of financial assistance." He is glad his work will be publicly accessible. "I couldn't think of a better place for my papers to go." The papers will make their public debut in an exhibit at the Wellcome Library in 2003 celebrating the 50th anniversary of Crick and Watson's discovery.