In 1968, he marries Elizabeth Lewis with whom he has two sons, Rufus and Duncan. Since 1974, their primary home has been on the grounds of Cold Spring Harbor Labatory.
He then gains a graduate fellowship to study zoology at Indiana University, attracted by the presence of the 1946 Nobel Prize winner Hermann Joseph Muller who in the 1930s had laid out all the basic properties of the molecule that is the basis of heredity. Watson receives his PhD in 1950, with a thesis about the effect of hard X-rays on bacteriophage multiplication.
Later in 1951 he joins the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, UK. There he teams up with Francis Crick to work out the DNA structure. Watson uses model constructions – improvising with cardboard and glue – to experiment with possible configurations for DNA. In 1953, using experimental data collected by Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins, Watson and Crick deduce the double helix structure of DNA and publish their findings in Nature.
He returns to the Cavendish, again working with Francis Crick. During this visit they publish several papers on the general principles of virus construction.
James Dewey Watson is born on April 6, 1928, in Chicago.
He receives a scholarship to the University of Chicago and enters their experimental four-year college at the age of 15. He receives his BSc in Zoology in 1947. During these years his interest in bird-watching matures into a fascination with genetics, having read Erwid Schrödinger’s book “What is Life?”.
Watson returns to the US and works at the California Institute of Technology. There he collaborates with Alexander Rich in X-ray diffraction studies of RNA.
He spends a postdoctoral year in Copenhagen. He works with bacterial viruses, attempting to study the fate of DNA of infecting virus particles. During the spring of 1951, he meets Maurics Wilkins at a symposium at the zoological station at Naples. There he sees for the first time the X-ray diffraction pattern of crystalline DNA. This stimulates him to change the direction of his research toward the structural chemistry of nucleic acids and proteins.
James Watson shares the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of DNA, the substance that is the basis of heredity.
In 1968 Watson becomes the Director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), and makes it a world centre for molecular biology, concentrating on cancer research. He retires in 2007, after criticism of his views about the intelligence of different races.
From 1956 to 1976, Watson is on the faculty of the Harvard University Biology Department, promoting research in molecular biology. During this interval, his major research interest is the role of RNA in protein synthesis. His bestselling book “The Double Helix” is published in 1968.
Between 1988 and 1992, Watson is associated with the National Institutes of Health, helping to establish the Human Genome Project. He leaves the project though, after conflicts with the new NIH Director, Bernadine Healy. Watson opposes his attempts to acquire patents on gene sequences, and any ownership of the "laws of nature".
He attends the Horace Mann Grammar School and South Shore High School.