Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin: The story of a woman who made history but whose contribution wasn’t recognised for decades. This was a common story in history, but no story is worse than Rosalind Franklin’s.  She was a woman before her time who should have been known for her contribution to discovering the map of DNA and the blueprint for everything that lives on our planet.  

Rosalind Franklin was born in 1920, at a young age she had an amazing gift for puzzles and maths.  Aged 18 she was accepted into Cambridge University. Her work on coal at Cambridge enabled better gas masks in WWII. 

In 1951 Rosalind moved to Kings’ college in London to pioneer photographing DNA.  She spent all day working close to radiation and finally found what she wanted when she took her famous photograph known as Photo 51. 

Photo 51, the showing of the helix structure of DNA, was taken from her files without her knowledge by one of her colleagues – Wilson – and shown to Watson and Crick of Cambridge. They used Rosalind’s famed Photo 51 to prove their theory and win the Nobel Prize.  They never credited Rosalind for the photograph or for her data that helped prove their theory. It’s true that, without her, they wouldn’t have been able to explain or share the helix structure of DNA. 

Rosalind died of cancer in 1958 at the age of 37.  The radiation that she worked with every day was the cause of her early death.  People began to speak of her contribution after her death, but Watson’s book was unkind to her, saying she was unfriendly and mad.  

The Nobel Prize isn’t awarded after someone dies, so Rosalind couldn’t have shared it with Watson and Crick, but there needs to be more recognition – there is a University named after her in the US, but I think there should be more.   

Rosalind Franklin was much more than a footnote to Watson & Crick’s Nobel prize story though – her work also made huge advances in the study of viruses. 

She became an expert in the field of viruses and because of Franklin, and her colleagues working with polio, it’s true to say her work has made today’s researchers work with covid possible. The current researchers are able to use tools such as DNA sequencing and X-ray crystallography to investigate viruses and plan our escape from a pandemic.

The Covid-19 vaccination made by Pfizer is connected to DNA.  They could only have developed the vaccine thanks to Rosalind Franklin’s work.  Her research has helped the world, she should be recognised and be put forward for much bigger things.

What happened to Rosalind was unfair, but we know that if something like this happened today it would be uncovered quickly and the record set straight. 

The main thing we can learn from her story is to be careful with your work and keep pushing forward even if no one listens.