• Rosalind Franklin

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Rosalind Franklin - 25th July 1920 --- 16th April, 1958. Aged only 37 years.

'Rosalind Franklin was an English X-ray crystallographer and Biophysicist, who made very improtant contribution to the discoveries of DNA, viruses, coal and graphite. Whenever someone mentions the discoveries of DNA, almost everyone will think of only Francis Crick and James Watson, or sometimes, Wilkins, but it was Franklin's invaluable work that made that possible. On february 1953, the brilliant young scientist was working hard in her laboratory at King's College, Lodon and is excited after two year's of hard work on tiny pieces of DNA, that she realised she is close to finding out its construction. While at cambridge university, crick and Watson, attempted to work out the structure first, have spent months trying to solve the problem and obtained Franklin's data from Wilkins. On 17th March, franklin finished her scientific paper with her DNA results so far,a s well as producing the finest picture of the DNA and on the following day, the Anglo-American pair finally discovered the structure of the DNA as a "double helix" and sent their result to king's College, London. So close, yet so far for Franklin to achieve the amazing goal of discovering the structure of DNA all by herself! Even one Professor of biochemistry commented, "she deserved the Nobel prize more than Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins put together and it was tragic that it couldn't be given posthumously."


Rosalind Franklin was born in London on 25th July 1920, the second child in a happy Jewish family. Her parents - Muriel and Ellis came from a wealthy Jewish background and were heavily involved in social work, helping the Jewish community and poor people. Franklin has 3 brothers(Colin, David and Roland) and a little sister - Jenifer.

She was an intelligent, logical girl who always loved to ask questions and never was interested in all the girly things like dolls ever from the start. Franklin and her family lived in a time where women were still not treated equally to men, but despite of the differences, her parents treated them all the same - something which was very unusual at that time of history.

Newnham College, Cambridge University

When Franklin became fifteen, she knew she wanteed to be a scientist. Three years later, in 1938, she started at Newnham College for women at Cambridge University. Due to the unfair treatment to women at that time, no more 500 women were allowed to attend the university at one time. However, Franklin met some wonderful women role-models who taught her class physics and chemistry.

She passed her finals in 1941, but was only awarded a degree titular, as women were not entitled to degrees (BA Cantab.) from Cambridge at the time. In 1945 Rosalind Franklin received her PhD from Cambridge University.

British Coal Utilisation Research Association

She worked for Ronald Norish between 1941 and 1942. Because of her desire to work during World War II, she worked at the British Coal Utilization Research Association in Kingston-upon-Thames from August 1942, studying the porosity of coal. Her work helped spark the idea of high-strength carbon fibres and was the basis of her doctoral degree - "The physical chemistry of solid organic colloids with special reference to coal and related materials" that she earned in 1945

in France...

During Franklin's life at Cambridge, she made friends with the French scientist Adrienne Weill, and he recommended her to his friend Marcel Mathieu and he gave her a job in France - studying X-ray crystallography from jacques Merling, which was a relative new science at that time.

In France, she worked in a large, airy laboratory with people from different countries and there was a loud atmosphere, which she enjoyed to be part of. And before she know it, she soon spoke fluent French. During these years of 12947 to 1950, it was probably her most happy time but despite of her good life there, she decided to move back to London.

Back to London - King's College

In January 1951, Franklin started working as a research associate at King's College London in the Medical Research Council's (MRC) Biophysics Unit, directed by John Randall.[23] Although originally she was to have worked on x-ray diffraction of proteins in solution, her work was redirected to DNA fibers before she started working at King's.[24][25] Maurice Wilkins and Raymond Gosling had been carrying out x-ray diffraction analysis of DNA in the Unit since 1950.[26]

Franklin, working with her student Raymond Gosling,[27] started to apply her expertise in x-ray diffraction techniques to the structure of DNA. They discovered that there were two forms of DNA: at high humidity (when wet) the DNA fiber became long and thin, when it was dried it became short and fat.[28][29] These were termed DNA 'B' and 'A' respectively. The work on DNA was subsequently divided, Franklin taking the A form to study and Wilkins the 'B' form.[30][31] The x-ray diffraction pictures taken by Franklin at this time have been called, by J. D. Bernal, "amongst the most beautiful x-ray photographs of any substance ever taken".[32]

By the end of 1951 it was generally accepted in King's that the B form of DNA was a helix, but Franklin in particular was unconvinced that the A form of DNA was helical in structure.[33] During 1952 Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling worked at applying the Patterson function to the x-ray pictures of DNA they had produced,[35] this was a long and labour-intensive approach but would give an insight into the structure of the molecule.[36][37]

While in February, Francis Crick, and James Watson were busy with their models and Watsonw as friendly with Wilkins - the other scientist in Franklin's laboratory, who is also working on the structure of DNA. Many times, wiklins secretly showed watson Franklin's data and work, including her best pictures of the DNA helix strctures - which played a vital role in Watson and Crick's amazing discovery.

In 1953, franklin was probably weeks away from the solution, in fact, her friend Aaron Klug, 20 years after found her paper that proven just how close she was to success: Franklin planned to publish her findings and data so far on a scientific paper, dateed 17th March in the scientific jornal - Nature. it contained most of the evidence for DNA.

But on the 18th, the news of Cricka nd Watson arrived at Knig's College and the pair reported they have discovered the structure fo DNA. On 25th april, the Watson-Crick finding was published in 'Nature'. They did not state that the evidence cam from Wilkins,or Franklin, or even thanked them for their data and work!

As soon as she saw the model, she was impressed but never knew now much her own work was involved. As a scientist, she was delighted to see a problem solved.

Life a Birkbeck

Saying good-bye to the DNA work, she went to Birkbeck to work on Viruses and three excellent years at Birkbeck College between 1953 and 1956.

In the summer fo 1956, Franklin feell ill with cancer inth e ovaries. Desipte fo having an operation in September, and not fully recovered, she went back to work which were her last few months alive! even just before she died, she was full of plans for the future - studying plant disease in Indiana, uSA and so on!

The Nobel Prize'

In 1962, Crick, Watson and Wilkins received the Nobel prize for physiology and medicine. Franklin lost her rightful place in history. It was not until later on her friends, including mair Livingstone reminded people of her vital role in the DNA discovery that others started to recognise her achievements.

There is now even a building atking's College London, which is named after Franklin and Wilkins.

Rosalind Franklin should be remmebered for her important work in the opening up to the remarkable worlf od genetics, the investigations into coals (her studies of coal are still used today), her TMS virus research (which forms a vital part in the basis of virus reserach today).

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