100 YEARS AGO
Heredity — and variation too — are matters of which no naturalist likes to admit himself entirely careless. Everyone knows that, somewhere hidden among the phenomena denoted by these terms, there must be principles which, in ways untraced, are ordering the destinies of living things. Experiments in heredity have thus, as I am told, a universal fascination. All are willing to offer an outward deference to these studies. The limits of that homage, however, are soon reached, and, though all profess interest, few are impelled to make even the moderate mental effort needed to apprehend what has been already done... An eminent foreign professor lately told me that he believed there were not half a dozen in his country conversant with what may be called Mendelism, though he added hopefully, “I find these things interest my students more than my colleagues.” A professed biologist cannot afford to ignore a new life-history, the Okapi, or the other last new version of the old story; but phenomena which put new interpretations on the whole, facts witnessed continually by all who are working in these fields, he may conveniently disregard as matters of opinion. Had a discovery comparable in magnitude with that of Mendel been announced in physics or chemistry, it would at once have been repeated and extended in every great scientific school throughout the world.
From Nature 25 August 1904.
50 YEARS AGO
The theory of methods of crystal-structure determination is at an interesting stage... Mrs. D. Hodgkin, of Oxford, described a partial solution of the structure of vitamin B12; the molecule contains about a hundred atoms, almost three times as many as the most complicated molecule that has yet been dealt with successfully. Similar methods combined with the Fourier-transform concept have also enabled Sir Lawrence Bragg and M. F. Perutz, of Cambridge, to report some success with hæmoglobin, the molecule of which contains about ten thousand atoms. Unfortunately, the Fourier projection obtained, having a resolution of only 4 A., is not particularly clear, and some intense study will be required before any reliable deductions can be made from it.
From Nature 28 August 1954.