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Who Was Rosalind Franklin?

Rosalind Franklin was a British chemist, researcher, and expert crystallographer. She is known for her contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA. Her incredible work in molecular biology laid the foundation for the discovery of DNA's structure, yet her name frequently languishes in the shadow of others.

Born on July 25, 1920, in London, to Muriel Frances Waley and

Ellis Arthur Franklin, Rosalind Elsie Franklin exhibited a passion for science from a young age. She attended St. Paul's Girls' School and later, Newnham College, University of Cambridge, where she pursued her love for chemistry and eventually earned her Ph.D. From 1947-1950, She worked as a researcher under Jaques Méring at the State Chemical Laboratory in Paris. There, she became an expert X-ray crystallographer. She received a fellowship to conduct research in physical chemistry at Cambridge after her graduation in 1941. Because of WW2 though, she went to serve as a London air warden. Other than that, she gave up her fellowship in 1942 to join the British Coal Utilization Research Association, where she studied the physical chemistry of carbon and coal for the war effort. This research laid the foundation for her future groundbreaking work in molecular biology.

Franklin's journey into molecular biology began when she joined the team at King's College London in 1951. Her expertise in X-ray crystallography, a cutting-edge technique used to reveal the three-dimensional structures of molecules, was her key to success. It was this very technique that would let her look deep into the heart of DNA.

At the same time, a scientific rivalry of great proportions was unfolding. James Watson and Francis Crick, two formidable scientists in their own right, were also in hot pursuit of DNA's structure. While Franklin was developing her work, Watson and Crick, unbeknownst to her, were piecing together their model. Sadly, her male colleagues seldom acknowledged her brilliance, further obscuring her contributions.

Walsh, B. F. (2012, May 16). The most important photo ever taken? BBC News.

Rosalind Franklin's most iconic contribution to the DNA puzzle was the now-famous "Photograph 51." This X-ray diffraction image, captured in collaboration with Raymond Gosling, displayed a distinct cross-shaped pattern, hinting at the elusive helical nature of DNA. Somehow, she hadn’t fully deciphered the image's significance herself.

In 1953, Watson and Crick unveiled their groundbreaking model of the DNA double helix, an achievement that would earn them the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. Researcher Maurice Wilkins had given Watson a copy of Franklin’s original DNA without her knowing. Only with this data were they able to complete their model. However, it was crucial to acknowledge Rosalind Franklin's pivotal role in this discovery, which was sadly unrecognized by the Nobel committee, and no credit whatsoever was given to her.

Tragically, Rosalind Franklin's life was cut short by ovarian cancer in 1958, when she was just 37 years old. Luckily, after that, her contributions to science have finally received the recognition they rightfully deserve. Her crucial role in deciphering DNA's structure has been acknowledged by researchers and historians alike, and her legacy continues to inspire generations of scientists.

The story of Rosalind Franklin is a testament to the often-overlooked contributions of women in science. Her mastery of X-ray crystallography unlocked the DNA enigma, yet her name has gone unacknowledged for much too long. While we celebrate the accomplishments of Watson and Crick, let us also take a moment to recognize Rosalind Franklin—an unsung hero of science whose work helped change our understanding of life itself.


-Rosalind Franklin. (2002, September 24). Wikipedia.

-V. (2011, March 29). Rosalind Franklin’s Research Led to Discovery of DNA Structure. VOA.

-Biographical Overview. (n.d.). Rosalind Franklin - Profiles in Science.

-Rosalind Franklin | Biography, Facts, & DNA. (2023, September 1). Encyclopedia Britannica.

-Rosalind Franklin - Nuclear Museum. (n.d.). Nuclear Museum.


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