Back to list



Science in Peace and War: The Secret of Life

Alumni, Archives, Master, Fellows and By-Fellows, Postgraduate Freshers, Public, Staff, Students, Undergraduate Freshers,

20 Oct 2022

  • Start: 17:30
  • End: 19:00

Wolfson Hall, Churchill College

Come and hear Howard Markel, author of The Secret of Life – Rosalind Franklin, James Watson, Francis Crick and the Discovery of DNA’s Double Helix, speak at this event.

James Watson and Francis Crick’s 1953 discovery of the double helix structure of DNA is the foundation of virtually every advance in our modern understanding of genetics and molecular biology. But in truth, five towering minds were in pursuit of this advancement: Watson, Crick, Rosalind Franklin, Maurice Wilkins, and Linus Pauling. This lecture re-creates the intense intellectual journey, and fraught personal relationships, that ultimately led to a spectacular breakthrough. Rosalind Franklin—fiercely determined, relentless, and an outsider at Cambridge and the University of London in the 1950s, as the lone Jewish woman among young male scientists—emerges as a focal point. Howard Markel will present a narrative of this landmark discovery, finally giving the woman at the centre of this drama her due.

Free and open to all.  This is an in-person event, which will also be live-streamed.  No need to book to attend in person.

Colour portrait photograph of Howard Markel

Howard Markel

Howard Markel is the George E. Wantz, M.D. Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine and Director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan. He is also Professor of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, History, Public Health and English Literature.

Professor Markel is one of the world’s pre-eminent historians of epidemics, quarantines, pandemics, public health, and medicine and popular culture. His groundbreaking work on social distancing during pandemics has not only had a major scholarly influence in the historical community but has also had a profound impact on the world’s public health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Working with Martin Cetron at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Professor Markel coined the concept of ‘flattening the curve.’ This work became a major portion of the evidence base for the 2007 and 2017 CDC Pandemic Preparedness Guidelines.

Professor Markel is the author, co-author, or co-editor of eleven books including the award-winning Quarantine! East European Jewish Immigrants and the New York City Epidemics of 1892, and When Germs Travel: Six Major Epidemics That Have Invaded America Since 1900 and the Fears They Have Unleashed.  His latest book, The Secret of Life; Rosalind Franklin, James Watson, Francis Crick and the Discovery of DNA’s Double Helix, was featured on the prestigious Newshour Bookshelf segment of the PBS NewsHour and quickly rose to become an Amazon Best Seller and “Mover and Shaker” soon after publication.  Audiofile awarded the recorded book version of The Secret of Life with an Earphone Award and one of the Best Non-Fiction Books on tape for the Year. It was also named a Best Book of the Year (2021) by National Public Radio.

Professor Markel is currently a Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge.