Quote /About Microscopy and From Microscopists

Don Wiley

"I didn't know enough diffraction theory to even know why what I was doing wouldn't work. That was a problem. I was too much of an empiricist at the time. I learned later that it's better to know what you are doing."

In Oral History Don Wiley, Don describes his senior project in the lab of Nancy Miburn at Tufts. "For my senior thesis I decided I wanted to take electron diffraction pictures from individual phage heads and I was going to put them in the electron microscope, focus in on them and then take an electron diffraction picture of it (select-area electron diffraction), and solve their structure. I made little crystals of zinc oxide and magnesium oxide. You know this is fun because you take a strip of magnesium and light it with a match. It goes phssssh. You hold a grid underneath it and the powder that falls down, the oxide, sticks on the grid. You put this into the machine and take a look at it by electron diffraction, and you see these beautiful powder patterns. So that's how I got the scope going.<br /> <br />When I put in the phage and took an electron diffraction pattern, I saw spots and almost fainted. But they turned out to be the negative stain crystallizing and it took me a long time to figure that out. Interestingly at that same time, Aaron Klug was doing the right thing. Namely, he was taking electron micrographs of the phage head and shining a laser through the micrograph negative and getting the optical diffraction pattern. So he was getting a diffraction pattern of the phage. I didn't know enough diffraction theory to even know why what I was doing wouldn't work. That was a problem. I was too much of an empiricist at the time. I learned later that it's better to know what you are doing."

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Don C. Wiley Oral History

Recorded and edited by Sondra Schlesinger in April of 1999, this interview covers Wiley's career as well as the development of of the deterimination of virus protein structures using x-ray crystallogy and the determination of the structure of the influenza hemagglutinin I.A.

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