The form in this picture is familiar — it’s a double helix, the basis for life, and we’ve seen it over and over. But in 1952, James Watson and Francis Crick laid eyes on these strands for the very first time.
The X-ray image was captured by Rosalind Franklin. Seeing it for the very first time was no doubt magical and awe-inspiring. The researchers didn’t know much about what they’d discovered, but they knew it was an important moment. Watson later described this ground-breaking moment in his book, Watson and Crick and DNA:
The instant I saw the picture my mouth fell open and my pulse began to race. The pattern was unbelievably simpler than those obtained previously. Moreover, the black cross of reflections which dominated the picture could only arise from a helical structure.
Of course, this snippet of life is undetectable without powerful cameras. Sixty years later, we can strands of DNA in even more detail thanks to scanning electron microscopes, but you never forget your first time. [The Atlantic]