Terra Sigillata

Odile Crick: 1920 – 2007

From today’s Washington Post:

Odile Crick, an artist who made the first widely published sketch of the double-helix structure of DNA, died of cancer July 5 at her home in La Jolla, Calif. She was 86.

Her graceful drawing of the double-helix structure of DNA with intertwined helical loops has become a symbol of the achievements of science and its aspirations to understand the secrets of life. The image represents the base pairs of nucleic acids, twisted around a center line to show the axis of the helix.

The free PDF of the famous 1953 Nature paper reveals the elegance of her interpretation of the double helix, the structure of which was solved by the team that included her husband, the late Francis Crick.

“The models you see now have all the atoms in them,” [The Salk Institute’s Terrence J.] Sejnowski said. “The one in Nature was the backbone and gave the bare outline. It may be the most famous [scientific] drawing of the 20th century, in that it defines modern biology.”

I enjoyed the description of her being “famously underwhelmed”:

Mrs. Crick was initially reluctant to abandon her pottery and paintings of Rubenesque nudes to take on the job of illustrating her husband’s work.

She also was famously underwhelmed when her husband — returning from his standing lunch with Watson at the Eagle pub in Cambridge, England — excitedly told her for the first time about his DNA findings.

“You were always coming home and saying things like that,” she said, “so naturally I thought nothing of it.”