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by Victoria Gilman
August 23, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 34

Crick (right) and Watson in 1953.
Crick (right) and Watson in 1953.

Francis H. C. Crick, who, with colleague James D. Watson, first proposed the double helix structure of DNA, died of colon cancer on July 28 at the age of 88.

Crick and Watson's discovery, which was announced in Nature in 1953, provided the basis not just for the molecular structure of DNA, but also for its ability to self-replicate and thus transfer genetic information. Their finding paved the way for revolu tionary advances in biology and medicine from forensics testing to gene therapy.

Born in Northampton, England, Crick earned a B.S. in physics from University College London in 1937, but he was unable to complete a doctoral degree when the onset of World War II interrupted his studies. He spent the war years working as a scientist for the British Admiralty, then went to the University of Cambridge, where he earned a Ph.D. in biology in 1954.

In 1951, Crick met and befriended U.S.-born Watson, who had recently arrived at Cambridge with a Ph.D. in zoology from Indiana University and had a newfound interest in the structural chemistry of nucleic acids and proteins. The pair soon began work on the DNA-modeling research that would bring them the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, shared with Maurice H. F. Wilkins of Kings College London.

"I will always remember Francis for his extraordinarily focused intelligence and for the many ways he showed me kindness and developed my self-confidence," said Watson in a statement released by his office at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. "Being with him for two years in a small room in Cambridge was truly a privilege."

At the time of his death, Crick was a distinguished research professor and former president of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif. He is survived by his wife, Odile; their daughters, Gabrielle and Jacqueline; and a son, Michael, from a previous marriage.

Douglas R. Stephens, a chemical engineer retired from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), died on May 9 at the age of 68.

Born in Portland, Ore., and raised in Bellingham, Wash., Stephens received a B.S. from the University of Washington in 1957. He went on to earn an M.S. in 1959 and a Ph.D. in 1961, both in chemical engineering, from the University of Illinois.

Stephens joined LLNL after graduation, where he founded and led the High-Pressure Process & Material Development Section of the chemistry department for 10 years. In 1966, he began work on the Apollo program under the National Aeronautics & Space Administration and was one of the scientists to analyze moon rock samples collected by Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969.

From 1972 to 1985, Stephens was director of LLNL's Underground Coal Gasification program, where he was instrumental in advancing the technology of harnessing the energy from coal deposits that are either too deep or too thin to mine conventionally.

Transitioning to weapons-related technology, Stephens was made assistant associate director for the lab's Weapons, Lasers & Energy program in the chemistry and materials science department, and he was later appointed as acting energy program director. He was leader of the Weapons Surety Assessment program for the Defense & Nuclear Technologies program, Q-Division, until 1997. Stephens was most recently employed by the Defense Technologies Engineering Division, W-Program.

Stephens was honored for his work at LLNL with a Federal Laboratory Consortium Special Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer and the Superior Achievement Award from the Department of Energy. He was a fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and was a former associate editor of In-Situ Journal and the Review of Scientific Instruments.

During his youth, Stephens became an enthusiastic outdoorsman and an avid hunter. He also enjoyed opera and was a member of the San Francisco East Bay Opera Guild, as well as a past president of the National Kidney Foundation of Northern California.

Stephens is survived by his wife, Mary; two daughters; and three grandchildren. Joined ACS in 1973.

S. William Pelletier, professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Georgia, died on Feb. 21 at the age of 79.

A native of Kankakee, Ill., Pelletier served in the Navy in the Pacific theater during World War II. He received a B.S. degree (summa cum laude) in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois in 1947, then completed a Ph.D. degree in 1950 at Cornell University.

In 1951, Pelletier took a staff position in the organic chemistry department at Rockefeller Institute in New York. He assumed the position of head of the chemistry department at the University of Georgia in 1962. As head, Pelletier increased the university's chemistry faculty from 14 to 30, the number of chemistry graduate students from 30 to 102, and the number of departmental papers published per year from 15 to 100. He also achieved a 20-fold increase in the department's external grant support.

Pelletier stepped down as head in 1969 to serve as the provost of the University of Georgia for seven years before becoming director of the Institute of Natural Products Research, a position he held until retiring in 2000.

As a researcher, Pelletier was an authority on the isolation, structure elucidation, and synthesis of natural products of biological interest, particularly diterpene alkaloids. In recent years, his research focused on the alkaloids of Aconitum, Consolida, Delphinium, and Garrya species. Pelletier edited a widely used series of books on the chemistry of alkaloids and published more than 360 manuscripts.

Pelletier served as president of the American Society of Pharmacognosy (ASP) and was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the Royal Society of Chemistry. In 1991, he received a top research award from ASP for his lifetime work on alkaloids. He also won the 1971 Herty Award from the Georgia Section of ACS and the 1972 Southern Chemist Award for distinguished achievements in chemistry from the ACS Memphis Section. He helped form the Northeast Georgia Section of ACS and served as its first chairman in 1968.

In his private life, Pelletier was an astute art collector. His collection includes etchings by renowned artists such as Rembrandt H. van Rijn, Adriane van Ostade, John Taylor Arms, and James McNeil Whistler. Pelletier authored 36 publications about the history of these and other artists.

Pelletier was preceded in death by his wife, Lee. He is survived by six children and 20 grandchildren. Joined ACS in 1949.

Obituaries are written by Victoria Gilman. Obituary notices may be sent by e-mail to and should include detailed educational and professional history.


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