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  • Writer's pictureSofia Ng

Strong Women: Rosalind Franklin

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

In the annals of scientific history, there are individuals whose contributions have shaped our understanding of the world in profound ways. One such remarkable figure is Rosalind Franklin, a brilliant scientist whose work played a crucial role in unlocking the mysteries of DNA and laying the foundation for modern molecular biology. Despite facing numerous challenges and often being overshadowed during her lifetime, Franklin's groundbreaking research continues to resonate in scientific circles and inspire generations of researchers today.

Born on July 25, 1920, in London, England, Rosalind Elsie Franklin displayed an early aptitude for science. Raised in a family that valued education, she excelled academically from an early age. Franklin attended St. Paul's Girls' School, where her passion for science was nurtured and encouraged. In 1938, she enrolled at Newnham College, University of Cambridge, to study chemistry, later pursuing her Ph.D. at the Laboratoire Central des Services Chimiques de l'État in Paris, France.

Franklin's research journey took her to various prestigious institutions, including King's College London and the Biophysical Laboratory at the University of Cambridge. Her pioneering work in X-ray crystallography, a technique used to study the structures of molecules, brought her widespread recognition. At King's College London, she focused her attention on DNA fibers, producing high-resolution X-ray images that revealed the helical structure of DNA. One of her most notable achievements was capturing Photograph 51, a crucial X-ray diffraction image that provided key insights into DNA's double helix structure.

During the early 1950s, the race to uncover the structure of DNA was intensifying. Franklin's X-ray images, including Photograph 51, provided critical evidence for the double-helix nature of DNA. However, due to various circumstances, her contributions were not fully acknowledged at the time. Maurice Wilkins, a colleague at King's College London, showed Photograph 51 to James Watson and Francis Crick without Franklin's knowledge or consent. Watson and Crick used Franklin's data, along with the research of others, to construct their famous model of DNA's structure, for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962.

Tragically, Rosalind Franklin did not live to see the full extent of her impact on science. She passed away on April 16, 1958, at the age of 37, from ovarian cancer, leaving behind a legacy of groundbreaking research. Over time, her contributions to the discovery of DNA's structure have received greater recognition, and she is now acknowledged as a key figure in the development of molecular biology.

Franklin's meticulous and exacting approach to science laid the groundwork for future discoveries in genetics and molecular biology. Her work not only helped unlock the secrets of DNA but also influenced advancements in other fields, such as virology and materials science.

Rosalind Franklin's life was one of intellectual brilliance and scientific dedication, characterized by her unwavering commitment to unraveling the secrets of life. Her pioneering work in X-ray crystallography and her crucial role in unveiling the structure of DNA have left an indelible mark on the scientific community. Despite the challenges she faced during her lifetime, Franklin's contributions continue to inspire scientists, particularly women, to persevere in their pursuit of knowledge and to make groundbreaking discoveries that shape the course of scientific progress. As we celebrate her enduring legacy, let us remember Rosalind Franklin as a trailblazer who laid the foundation for our modern understanding of genetics and biology.

Fun Fact

Apart from her scientific brilliance, Rosalind Franklin had a passion for photography. She was known to carry her camera with her on travels and during leisure time, capturing moments and scenes that caught her eye. Her love for photography not only allowed her to document her scientific work but also provided a creative outlet beyond the lab. It is fascinating to imagine this brilliant scientist exploring the world through the lens of her camera, capturing the beauty and wonder of life in addition to unraveling the mysteries of DNA.

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