Professor Hugh Huxley FRS MBE
Molecular biologist/physiologist born in Birkenhead, Cheshire, 1924
Hugh Huxley received his PhD from Christ’s College, Cambridge and worked on radar in World War 2. He turned to biophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1952-4) and the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology from 1961. From the 1950s he was the central figure in developing the detailed structural basis of muscle contraction*. He developed this concept in detail with Jean Hansen, and with thin slicing techniques devised X-ray diffraction and electron microscopy techniques for this work which are also applicable in other studies in physiology. He won the Royal Medal in 1977 and the Copley Medal in 1997. He became professor of biology at Brandeis University, MA, in 1987.
Professor Huxley was one of the 43 scientists and philosophers who in March 2002 signed a letter to Tony Blair and relevant Government departments, deploring the teaching of Creationism in schools, and in July 2009 he joined other eminent scientists and educators calling for vital changes to the proposed science curriculum for primary schools in England in a letter to Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. He was also one of the signatories to a letter supporting a holiday on Charles’ Darwin’s birthday, published in The Times on February 12, 2003, and also sent to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary.
*Muscle contraction: Muscle fibres contain a large number of longitudinally arranged myofibrils, which, Huxley demonstrated, are composed of thick and thin filaments of the proteins myosin and actin. He showed how the filaments are attached to one another in a woven pattern, and suggested that muscle contraction is brought about by sliding movements of two sets of filaments.He discovered that the myosin filaments are able to aggregate under suitable conditions to form ‘artificial’ filaments of varying lengths. He proposed that the ‘tails’ of the myosin molecules become attached to each other to form a filament with the heads projecting from the body of the filament, and that this plays an important part in the sliding effect.