Rosalind Franklin was a scientist whose x-ray studies provided photographic evidence of the double helix shape of DNA. July 25, 2017 marks the 97th anniversary of Rosalind Franklin's birth in 1920 in London, England.
Rosalind Franklin studied chemistry at Cambridge University in England, earning her Ph.D. in 1945 for work analyzing the carbon content and other properties of various types of coal.
After receiving her degree, Dr. Franklin moved to France. She worked in a lab where she became proficient in carbon analysis using a technique called x-ray crystallography, in which a substance is exposed to x-rays and then its structure is determined based on the displacement of the x-rays. Dr. Franklin moved back to England in 1950 and joined a lab at King's College London working with John T. Randall and Maurice Wilkins. At King's College, Dr. Franklin used x-ray crystallography to study DNA.
In early 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick were at Cambridge University attempting to construct a model of DNA. They showed a draft of their work to Maurice Wilkins at King's College. Maurice Wilkins showed Watson and Crick an x-ray study that Dr. Franklin had done on DNA (known as photo 51), and from that x-ray crystallography, Watson and Crick were able to deduce the double helical structure of DNA. Watson and Crick published their seminal theory in Nature in April 1953.
After her time at King's College, Dr. Franklin moved to a lab at Birkbeck College in London and turned her focus to x-ray crystallography of viruses. Her work helped to reveal the structure and organization of certain plant viruses.
In late 1956, Rosalind Franklin was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She underwent several cycles of treatment and had several remissions over a period of 18 months. Dr. Franklin died in London on April 16, 1958.
In 1962, James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their work in discovering the structure of DNA. Over the years, support has grown for Dr. Franklin to be recognized for the role her work played in the discovery of the DNA structure. While Rosalind Franklin's untimely passing left her ineligible for the Nobel Prize, her reputation as a scientist continues to grow as more people learn about her important contributions.