Our STEM All-Star #19 is Rosalind Franklin, Molecular Biologist. Download a printable PDF here.
Rosalind Elsie Franklin (25 July 1920 – 16 April 1958) was a British biophysicist and X-ray crystallographer who made critical contributions to the understanding of the fine molecular structures of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal, and graphite. Franklin is best known for her work on the X-ray diffraction images of DNA which led to discovery of DNA double helix.
Her data, according to Francis Crick, was “the data we actually used” to formulate Crick and Watson’s 1953 hypothesis regarding the structure of DNA. Franklin’s images of X-ray diffraction confirming the helical structure of DNA were shown to Watson without her approval or knowledge. Though this image and her accurate interpretation of the data provided valuable insight into the DNA structure, Franklin’s scientific contributions to the discovery of the double helix are often overlooked. Unpublished drafts of her papers (written just as she was arranging to leave King’s College London) show that she had independently determined the overall B-form of the DNA helix and the location of the phosphate groups on the outside of the structure. Moreover, Franklin personally told Crick and Watson that the backbones had to be on the outside, which was crucial since before this both they and Linus Pauling had independently generated non-illuminating models with the chains inside and the bases pointing outwards. However, her work was published third, in the series of three DNANature articles, led by the paper of Watson and Crick which only hinted at her contribution to their hypothesis.
Watson and Crick used her x-ray photographs to develop the double helix model of DNA.
On the left is Rosalind Franklin, whose stunning X-Ray crystallography images of DNA (one of which, down the centre of a double helix, is shown on the right) aided Crick and Watson in their discovery of DNA structure.
Rosalind Franklin in a 1940 letter to her religious father: I maintain that faith in this world is perfectly possible without faith in another world…
(via Letters of Note)
Rosalind Franklin was a biologist and chemist, famous for her role in discovering the structure of DNA.
She learnt about x-ray diffraction techniques in Paris and then in 1951 joined King’s College, London. There she led a research project, aimed at discovering the structure of DNA.
Franklin used pioneering crystallographic X-ray photography to capture images of the double helical structure of DNA. These images helped James Watson to complete and publish his model of DNA.
After her work at Kings she went on to study the tobacco mosaic virus and polio.
Sadly she died of cancer in 1956 and some believe the cause of her cancer could have been linked to her exposure to radiation whilst using the x-ray techniques that contributed so greatly to Watson’s discovery.
Read: How to Remove a Brain, David Haviland.
Rosalind Franklin, the scientist who worked with Maurice Wilkins in 1952 to take the first ever pictures of DNA’s double helix structure. Watson and Crick used these pictures and Franklin’s research to make the famous DNA model.
Rosalind Franklin: Why she kicks ass
- Rosalind Franklin was best known for her work on the X-ray diffraction images of DNA. Her images confirming the helical structure of DNA were shown to James Watson and Francis Crick without her knowledge or approval. The two men later used her data in their 1953 hypothesis on the structure of DNA.
- Sexism was rampant during her college years- James Watson, denigrated her work and frequently referred to her in patronizing terms as “Rosy”. Another colleague, Peter Cavendish, wrote in a letter, “Wilkins is supposed to be doing this work; Miss Franklin is evidently a fool”.
- She died in 1958 at the age of 37 from complications arising from ovarian cancer.
Not sure how dying young from ovarian cancer makes you kickass, but if anyone deserves the title, it’s Rosalind.
Ink - 2010
This is the story of Rosalind Franklin and her work with DNA discovery and how her life was taken by ovarian cancer. The composition is taken from Diego Velazquez’s painting, “The Coronation of the Virgin”