Hall of Fame – 2011

Dr. James Watson

The Nobel Scientist 

Dr. James Watson helped to unravel the structure of DNA, a feat so stunning that it is considered by most experts as the greatest scientific achievement of the 20th century. Next up for Dr. Watson is a cure for cancer, and he believes he once again holds the key to that extraordinary breakthrough. And who can doubt him? At 82, he is as committed and hardworking a scientist as ever.

James Dewey Watson was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1928 and educated at the University of Chicago. In 1953, while at Cambridge University, he and Francis Crick successfully proposed the double helical structure for DNA. For this work, Watson and Crick, together with Maurice Wilkins, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962.

While a Professor at Harvard, Watson commenced a writing career that generated the seminal text, Molecular Biology of the Gene, the best-selling autobiographical volume, The Double Helix, and most recently Avoid Boring People.

Later, while leading the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Long Island, New York, he was a driving force behind setting up the Human Genome Project, a major factor in his receipt in 1993 of the Copley Medal from the Royal Society that elected him a member in 1981.

Among other honors, Watson was elected in 1962 to the National Academy of Sciences and, in 1977, received from President Ford the Medal of Freedom. He has received honorary degrees from many universities including The University of Chicago (1961), Harvard University (1978), Cambridge University (1993), University of Oxford (1995), Trinity College, Dublin (2001), and Uppsala University (2007).

Watson received the National Medal of Science in December 1997, the City of Philadelphia Liberty Medal on July 4, 2000, and the Benjamin Franklin Medal awarded by the American Philosophical Society in 2001. Queen Elizabeth II proclaimed him an honorary Knight of the British Empire on January 1, 2002.

Watson has served the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in several capacities since 1968 [Director 1968-1994, President 1994-2003, Chancellor 2003-2007] and now is Chancellor Emeritus.

Watson is a third-generation Irish American and takes deep pride in his Irish heritage. His great grandparents came to the Unites States from County Tipperary in the late 1840s, settled in Ohio and then moved to Indiana after his grandmother, Elizabeth Gleeson, was born in 1861.


Click here to read Niall O’Dowd’s interview with Dr. Watson