Cover image for Designs for life : molecular biology after World War II
Designs for life : molecular biology after World War II
Chadarevian, Soraya de.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, UK ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Physical Description:
xvii, 423 pages : illustrations ; 26 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QH506 .C37 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Molecular biology has come to dominate our perceptions of life, health and disease. In the decades following World War II, the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge was a world-renowned center of this emerging discipline. Crick and Watson, among others, did the work that made them famous in this laboratory. Soraya de Chadarevian's important new study is the first to examine the creation and expansion of molecular biology and its place on the postwar governmental agenda through the prism of this remarkable institution.

Author Notes

Soraya de Chadarevian is Senior Research Associate and Affiliated Lecturer in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

De Chadarevian offers a timely book, pertinent because of the recent 50th anniversary of the publication of Watson and Crick's description of DNA. The discovery of the double helix structure of DNA is one of the many fascinating stories illuminated in this work. The book's main thesis is how the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge evolved and how this amazing institution was involved in the emergence of the field of molecular biology. De Chadarevian makes a convincing argument that the LMB was the catalyst that sparked the rapid development of molecular biology. She interweaves the science with the political, social, and personal issues that also contributed to this institution and the development of the field. The book is organized in three parts; part 1 is concerned with WW II and the involvement of physics in the life sciences. Part 2 treats the origins of molecular biology (including the double helix), and part 3 explains the contribution of the culture of science and the surrounding political environment. For all "students" of molecular biology. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers; graduate students through professionals. D. Carroll Florida Institute of Technology

Table of Contents

List of figuresp. ix
List of tablesp. xii
Prefacep. xiii
Acknowledgmentsp. xiv
Chronologyp. xviii
List of abbreviationsp. xix
1 Introductionp. 1
A local study
The postwar era
The making of a new science
Histories of molecular biology
Too early, too late?
Part I Postwar Reconstruction and Biophysicsp. 17
2 World War II and the mobilisation of British scientistsp. 20
Active mobilisation
Postwar planning
The place of science in postwar Britain
Science and public display
New departures
3 Reconstructing lifep. 50
The need for biophysics
The 'Randall incident'
Molecular structure
War, mother of all things?
Physics of life versus physics of death
War recruits
Biophysicists and the transformation of biology
4 Proteins, crystals and computersp. 98
Mad pursuit
The Cambridge Mathematical Laboratory
From punched card machines to electronic computers
Managing data
Assessing efficiency
Setting the limits
A new pace of research
5 Televisual languagep. 136
Models as research tools
Publishing models
The shape of life
A new science
Part II Building Molecular Biologyp. 161
6 Locating the double helixp. 164
The debate on the 'origins'
Annus mirabilis at Cambridge
A cuckoo's egg
After the double helix
Codes, maps and sequences
Phages in the Cavendish
7 Disciplinary movesp. 199
Forging links
A new name
The case for a laboratory of molecular biology
Council decision
Using the media
University politics
Negotiations over a site
The biologists' protest
Molecular biology in Cambridge
8 The origins of molecular biology revisitedp. 236
Constructing a discovery
Local strategy or general trend?
Biophysics at King's College London
Action concertee and molecular biology in France
Part III Benchwork and Politicsp. 261
9 Laboratory culturesp. 264
Federative constitution
Molecular mechanism
Boundary objects
New technologies
In and out of the laboratory
A new laboratory tool
Exporting the worm
Renegotiating molecular biology
10 On the governmental agendap. 300
Brain drain
A political role
Biology census
Biology and Cold War politics
'Modern biology'
A Europe of biology
11 The end of an erap. 336
'The party is over'
From basic to applied?
The monoclonal antibody scandal
12 Conclusionsp. 363
Bibliographyp. 367
Indexp. 403