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The Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology

History of the Astbury Centre

Professor W T Astbury

The Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology (ACSMB) was formally constituted as a University Interdisciplinary Research Centre in 1999. The Centre builds on the visions and achievements of the pioneers of modern biophysics and is named after W.T. (Bill) Astbury, a biophysicist who laid many of the foundations of the field during a long research career at the University of Leeds (1928-1961). Astbury originally identified the two major recurring patterns of protein structure (alpha and beta, took the first X-ray fibre diffraction pictures of DNA (in 1938) and is widely credited with the definition of the field of molecular biology. Astbury's work, in turn, followed from the pioneering work of Sir William Bragg who was the Cavendish Professor of Physics in Leeds from 1908-1915.

"The Braggs and Astbury: Leeds and the Beginning of Molecular Biology" by Professor ACT North tells the early history of the development of the field.

"Biophysics and Molecular Biology in Leeds after Astbury and the Braggs" continues Prof North's history of the subject in Leeds.

Dr Donald Nicholson first came to Leeds as a Research Fellow and then Lecturer in bacteriology in 1946. His work was a very early example of interdisciplinarity - he was the only chemist in the department of bacteriology and inevitably was given bacterial metabolism to teach. These early experiences prompted him to try to make metabolism more understandable to undergraduates and led to him creating the first metabolic map that we are so familiar with nowadays. At the age of 90, Donald is still working on his maps and in producing modern animated reaction 'maps'. "Life's Cartographer" is an article first published in Chemistry World in 2006 which charts Donald's career.
We are grateful to Chemistry World for permission to reproduce this article.