Spotlight on: Rosalind Franklin

Spotlight on: Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin

Photo: By Jewish Chronicle Archive/Heritage-Images, Fair use,

Rosalind Franklin was born in 1920 in London to Jewish parents. She attended the women’s Newnham college at the University of Cambridge, studying chemistry. After graduating, Rosalind began working at the British Coal Utilisation Research Association as a researcher, while also volunteering as Air Raid Warden to support members of the public during World War II. Her research eventually led to her PhD thesis on the porosity of coal. In 1946, Rosalind moved to Paris to work with leading crystallographer Jacques Mering. During her time there, she continued her research on coal and carbon. In 1951 Rosalind returned to London and took up a position within the biophysics department of King’s College London.

There, she began applying her knowledge of X-ray crystallography to DNA. The double-helix structure of DNA was then still unknown, and her painstaking work yielded the infamous Photo 51, suggesting the helical structure of DNA. This photograph was shared without her knowledge or permission by her colleague to competing scientist James Watson. Watson and his partner Crick used this image and Rosalind’s precise measurements as the basis for their DNA model, publishing their ground-breaking discovery, and omitting Franklin from the publication. Rosalind eventually moved on to researching RNA in viruses. She passed away from ovarian cancer in 1958 at age 37.

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