Archives from the pioneers of modern genetics to be brought together for the first time

The Wellcome Library is to bring the papers of the pioneers of modern genetics together in one place for the first time as part of a ground-breaking digitisation project, ‘Modern Genetics and its Foundations’.

Tens of thousands of notes, letters, sketches, lectures, photographs and essays, produced by the key players in the discovery of the structure of DNA and the development of genetics - including Francis Crick, James D Watson, Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins - will be freely available online.

These vast collections contain iconic documents, everyday exchanges, complex research notes and personal ephemera and highlight the extraordinary networks of insight and inspiration behind pivotal moments of scientific discovery. The material will be released in phases from autumn 2012.

Working in partnership with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, USA, The Churchill Archives Centre, the University of Glasgow, King's College London and UCL (University College London), the archival papers of James D Watson, Rosalind Franklin, Sydney Brenner, Lionel Penrose, J B S Haldane, Guido Pontecorvo, James Harrison Renwick, Malcolm Ferguson-Smith and Maurice Wilkins will be digitised. They will join material from the Wellcome Library's own holdings, including the papers of Francis Crick, Fred Sanger, Arthur Ernest Mourant, the MRC blood group, Hans Gruenberg and Gerard Wyatt.

The material will offer a comprehensive picture of the complex relationships between the scientists unlocking the secrets of the structure of DNA, in their own words, and give researchers and curious minds access to the personal and professional thoughts, blind alleys and breakthroughs of the circle of brilliant minds whose ideas transformed our understanding of the matter of life.

The Wellcome Library's 'Modern Genetics and its Foundations' project is the first phase of a major digitisation programme that will create an integrated online research resource, featuring digitised books, archives, films, photographs and audio covering every aspect of the history of medicine and biomedical science.

Simon Chaplin, Head of the Wellcome Library, says: "We are thrilled to be working with five world-class libraries and archives to make these outstanding collections freely available alongside our own holdings. Together, they will offer an unparalleled research resource that documents one of the most significant periods of scientific innovation in human history."

Digitisation of material from the Wellcome Library's collection, including the Francis Crick papers, is underway. New external material to be digitised includes:

From Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, USA:

  • The James D Watson Collection, featuring biographical papers, correspondence, notebooks, and photographs and video, covering the period 1897 to 2010.
  • The Sydney Brenner Collection, featuring correspondence with Francis Crick between 1945 and 1979 and archival material, including notebooks, photographs and writings between 1948 and 1992.

From the Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge:

  • The papers of Rosalind Franklin, including posthumously collected material about Franklin, covering the period 1937 to 1976.

From King’s College London:

  • Large scale selection from the MRC Biophysics Unit, focused on the early history of X-ray crystallographic diffraction, including research and papers notes and correspondence by and related to Maurice Wilkins.

From the University of Glasgow Archives Service:

  • The Guido Pontecorvo Collection, including research material, correspondence, lecture notes and slides, from the 1940s to the 1990s.
  • The James Harrison Renwick Collection, dating chiefly from the period of Renwick’s human genetics research from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s.
  • The Malcolm Ferguson-Smith Collection, dominated by very substantial correspondence covering the period 1957 to 2008.

From UCL:

  • The Lionel Penrose Collection, including his professional and personal papers, essays, correspondence and photographs from 1915 to his death in 1972.
  • The J B S Haldane Collection, including notes, papers and correspondence, 1935-1957.

Notes for editors

About Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, USA (CSHL) is a private, not-for-profit research and education institution located on Long Island, east of New York, USA. Founded in 1890, CSHL has shaped contemporary biomedical research and education with programs in cancer, neuroscience, plant biology, and quantitative biology. CSHL is ranked number one in the world by Thomson Reuters for impact of its research in molecular biology and genetics. The Laboratory's education arm also includes a graduate school and programs for undergraduates as well as middle and high school students and teachers.

The CSHL Archives houses a rich repository of books, manuscripts, correspondence, and photographs documenting genetics research, the work of the faculty of CSHL and its predecessor institutions dating back to 1890.

About the Churchill Archives Centre

The Churchill Archives Centre is best known for its political collections, including the archives of Sir Winston Churchill and Baroness (Margaret) Thatcher. Yet the Centre has always collected the personal papers of prominent scientists and technologists. In recent years, it has acquired strong collections of scientists working in the field of genetics.

Churchill Archives Centre is part of Churchill College, Cambridge. The Centre is open Monday to Friday, 09.00 to 17.00, and anyone can consult the collections by appointment. The Centre was awarded 'Designated Status' by the former Museums, Libraries and Archives Council for the quality and breadth of its collections. For further details of the Centre's work see its website.

About Kings College London

King’s College London is one of the top 30 universities in the world (2011/12 QS World University Rankings) and the fourth oldest in England. A research-led university based in the heart of London, King's has an outstanding reputation for providing world-class teaching and cutting-edge research.

King's has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA and research that led to the development of radio, television, mobile phones and radar. It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe; no university has more Medical Research Council Centres.

About University of Glasgow

Founded in 1451, the University of Glasgow is the fourth oldest university in the English-speaking world and ranked in the world’s top 100. Today it is a broad-based, research intensive institution with a global reach.

Glasgow is a member of the prestigious Russell Group of leading research universities. With annual grants and contracts income totalling more than £128m, the institution is in the UK's top ten earners for research. World-leading expertise spans a range of subject areas - history of art, veterinary medicine, cancer studies and accounting and finance are all rated in the UK's top five for research excellence.

Each year, the University welcomes around 23 000 undergraduate and postgraduate scholars from 120 countries around the world. The 2011 International Student Barometer ranks Glasgow 1st in the UK for student satisfaction, and 90 per cent of final year undergraduates report satisfaction with their experiences. Students graduate equipped with the skills they need to compete in a global environment and with friendships and networks that last a lifetime.

About UCL (University College London)

Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. We are among the world's top universities, as reflected by performance in a range of international rankings and tables. UCL currently has 24 000 students from almost 140 countries and more than 9500 employees. Our annual income is over £800 million. Follow UCL on Twitter @uclnews.

About Wellcome Library

Wellcome Library is one of the world's major resources for the study of medical history and provides access to a growing collection of contemporary biomedical information resources relating to consumer health, popular science, biomedical ethics and the public understanding of science. The Library is situated within Wellcome Collection, a free visitor destination for the incurably curious. Located at 183 Euston Road, London, Wellcome Collection explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future.

Wellcome Library is part of the Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust's breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.