Thesis Thursday - Two (e)Theses from 1954
This year at King's we wanted to highlight two theses from 1954 from two influential scientists which have been made available through our repository for Thesis Thursday.
The first is Raymond Gosling's X-ray diffraction studies of deoxyribose nucleic acid. He was part of a research group instrumental in the discovery of DNA and has been described as 'the often overlooked fifth person involved in the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA'.
Gosling was supervised by Maurice Wilkins and then Rosalind Franklin during his PhD and took the famous Photograph 51 which shows an X-ray diffraction image of DNA.
He was also a named author on one of the papers which has been recognised making a key contribution to the discovery of DNA and to Watson, Crick and Wilkins' Nobel prize for physiology or medicine award in 1962. According to the Daily Telegraph, after his PhD Gosling wished to remain working with DNA, hoping that researchers would start using the breakthrough to find ways of curing cancer but this didn't come to pass and he drifted away from the field. However he remained in academia and after several lecturing roles returned to work at Guy's Hospital Medical School, where he became Professor of Physics Applied to Medicine in 1984 and set up the Ultrasonic Angiology Unit. He was involved in the science and technology for haemodynamic doppler ultrasound vascular assessment.
Gosling wrote a piece in 2011 about his PhD research. He passed away in May 2015, aged 88. King's College London Archives have an online exhibition detailing the role King's researchers played in the discovery of DNA.
Peter Higgs also completed his PhD in 1954, the title of which is Some problems in the theory of molecular vibrations. Higgs continued to work in this area, looking at electromagnetic fields and has since had the famous Higgs boson particle named after him, which was discovered experimentally in 2012.
He took up a post as lecturer at Edinburgh University in 1960 and there he initially theorised the so-called Higgs model in 1964, ten years after completing his PhD. The search for this particle began in earnest and many experiments were conducted at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. In 1976 some cautionary words were published warning as to the difficulty of trying to find the Higgs Boson experimentally but it became such a pursuit that the Higgs Hunter's Guide was written in 1989. In 2013 the Nobel prize for Physics was awarded to Francois Englert and Peter Higgs for "the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN's Large Hadron Collider." A testament to Higgs' influence can also be seen in the title of another thesis in the repository, much more recent from 2016, Robert Hogan's Dark matter, baryogenesis, and inflation in the Higgs era.
There is a recording of a talk which was presented at King's College London in 2010. In the spirit of Open Access, one thing that is interesting about the talk is the extent to which Professor Higgs discusses pre-prints being circulated amongst the community of scientists around the world in the 1960s, in paper copy sent by post. Physicists were first off the mark with creation of a pre-print service (arXiv) in 1993, still the early days of the internet and since then have continued to operate in an open and transparent fashion.
Both of these researchers' careers were influential in different areas of science but had slightly different courses, not least in the timing of the Nobel prize wins within their careers. Both show the ways in which careers and areas of research can shift and develop over time.
(The images of Raymond Gosling and Photograph 51 are reproduced courtesy of King's College London Archives; the image of Peter Higgs is courtesy of CERN, http://cds.cern.ch/record/1108518)