Activity for The Double Helix
This activity explores the concepts and research presented in the short film The Double Helix, which tells the story of the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA.
James Watson and Francis Crick collected and interpreted key evidence to determine that DNA molecules take the shape of a twisted ladder, a double helix. The film presents the challenges, false starts, and eventual success of their chase, culminating in the classic 1953 publication in Nature on the structure of DNA. Rarely seen archival footage is combined with interviews with some of today’s leading scientists to bring this landmark discovery and all of its implications to life.
The “Student Handout” probes students’ understanding of the key concepts addressed in the film. The “Educator Materials” document provides suggested pause points in the film with questions for students, background information, and detailed discussion points; a list of related resources and references; and an answer key for the “Student Handout.”
Student Learning Targets
Explain how evidence collected by the scientific community allowed Watson and Crick to build a model of DNA.
Describe some of the key structural features of DNA and their relationship to DNA’s function.
deoxyribose, nitrogenous base, nucleotide, scientific model, structural biology, X-ray crystallography
Franklin, Rosalind E., and Raymond G. Gosling. “Molecular configuration in sodium thymonucleate.” Nature 171, 4356 (1953): 740–741. https://doi.org/10.1038/171740a0.
Watson, James D., and Francis H. C. Crick. “A structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid.” Nature 171, 4356 (1953): 737–738. https://doi.org/10.1038/171737a0.
Wilkins, Maurice H. F., Alexander R. Stokes, and Herbert R. Wilson. “Molecular structure of deoxypentose nucleic acids.” Nature 171, 4356 (1953): 738-740. https://doi.org/10.1038/171738a0.
HS-LS1-1, HS-LS3-1, HS-LS3-2, HS-PS2-4, HS-PS4-5; SEP6
3.A.1, 4.A.1; SP6
2.6, 2.7, 3.4, 7.1, 7.2