Instant Reaction: Secret of Life

Caspar and Watson
Donald Caspar and James Watson.

“I do love the shapes, you know. I love them even before they mean something”, wistfully reflects Rosalind Franklin’s character in Anna Ziegler’s historical play about the discovery of the structure of DNA. Following the provocatively complex play, there were tears, cheers, dropped jaws, and appalled silences from the audience as three of the renowned pioneers of molecular biology depicted in the play gave their accounts of how the beautiful shape depicted in Rosalind Franklin’s Photograph 51 came to mean the structure of life.


“I think that we were extraordinarily lucky that we won and Rosalind didn’t get the answer. I was very, very lucky. But you know – in science you give prizes for people who are lucky!” -James Watson

“But for Rosalind it wasn’t a race! She was doing her work. The race was to publish her data before she did.”-Donald Caspar

“I was more passionate about DNA than she was.” -Watson

“A striking feature of Rosalind was that she never looked back. She was always looking forward” -Caspar

“She really did inspire affection. Now you wouldn’t get that feeling of affection from a really shrewish woman. She had great verve and vitality. But the thing that annoyed the boys with their toys was that she had a separate life, a personal life, which grubby little physicists…couldn’t afford to have.” -Raymond Gosling

“One characteristic of Rosalind that doesn’t quite come through was her sharp sense of humor.” -Caspar

“In science you can’t kill your opponents, because then you’ll have no one to listen to.” -Watson

“One thing she taught me that I try to teach my students is the art of playing devil’s advocate. It can really cement your ideas.” -Gosling


“Molecular Biology is a world of opportunities, and you have to go for it. Like Steve Jobs. I love how the Apple icon has a bite out of it, because that’s exactly what you have to do – grab life and take a bite out of it.” Gosling’s response to an aspiring engineer’s request for advice after the panel discussion.

“Where did you get that marvelous English accent!? I wish mine was that good!” – Gosling, to Jared McGuire who portrayed him in the play

“Franklin’s character really got to me – she just fit it perfectly” –High school student to his mother

“I just loved listening to every word you said.” –Middle-aged woman to Gosling

The Secret Behind the Secret of Life took place on Friday, June 3, 2011. Check out other Instant Reactions or view the full Festival schedule to learn more about the many other 2011 Festival programs.

Photo by Rachel Zwick


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