Early Life And Training
Watson was born April 6, 1928, in Chicago, Illinois. He showed his brilliance early, finishing high school in two years and appearing as one of the original "Quiz Kids," on a popular 1940s radio show of the same name. He was graduated from the University of Chicago in 1947 with a B.S. in zoology, reflecting an early love of birds. He did his doctoral work at Indiana University in genetics, and earned a Ph.D. in 1950. He was drawn to Indiana by the chance to work with Hermann Joseph Muller, who had been one of Thomas Hunt Morgan's associates in the famous "fly room" at Columbia University, and who had received a Nobel Prize for his discoveries in genetics. Watson's thesis adviser and principal mentor was Salvador Luria, who, along with Max Delbrück, had established bacterial genetics as the experimental system in which most of the major discoveries in molecular biology were to be made. Watson's thesis was on the effect of X rays on the multiplication of a bacterial virus, called phage.
Watson continued to study phage as a postdoctoral student in Copenhagen, Denmark where he worked from 1950 to 1951. While there, he met Maurice Wilkins, and for the first time saw the X-ray diffraction images generated in Wilkins's lab by Rosalind Franklin. Watson quickly decided to turn his attention to discovering the structure of important biological molecules, including DNA and proteins. By that time, DNA had been shown to be the genetic molecule, and it was believed that it somehow carried the instructions for making proteins, which actually perform most of the work in a cell.