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Franklin, Rosalind (1920 1958) Essay

1138 words - 5 pages

Franklin, Rosalind (1920 - 1958)

Franklin was a Londoner by birth. After graduating from Cambridge
University, she joined the staff of the British Coal Utilisation
Research Association in 1942, moving in 1947 to the Laboratoire
Centrale des Services Chimique de L'Etat in Paris. She returned to
England in 1950 and held research appointments at London University,
initially at King's College from 1951 to 1953 and thereafter at
Birkbeck College until her untimely death from cancer at the age of

Franklin played a major part in the discovery of the structure of DNA
by James Watson and Francis Crick. With the unflattering and distorted
picture presented by Watson in his The Double Helix (1968) her role in
this has become somewhat controversial. At King's, she had been
recruited to work on biological molecules and her director, John
Randall, had specifically instructed her to work on the structure of
DNA. When she later learned that Maurice Wilkins, a colleague at
King's, also intended to work on DNA, she felt unable to cooperate
with him. Nor did she feel much respect for the early attempts of
Watson and Crick in Cambridge to establish the structure.

The causes of friction were various ranging from simple personality
clashes to, it has been said, male hostility to the invasion of their
private club by a woman. Despite this unsatisfactory background
Franklin did obtain results without which the structure established by
Watson and Crick would have been at the least delayed. The most
important of these was her x-ray photograph of hydrated DNA, the
so-called B form, the most revealing such photograph then available.
Watson first saw it in 1952 at a seminar given by Franklin, and
recognized that it clearly indicated a helix. Franklin also
appreciated, unlike Watson and Crick, that in the DNA molecule the
phosphate groups lie on the outside rather than inside the helix.

Despite such insights it was Watson and Crick who first realized that
DNA has a double helix. By March 1953 Franklin had overcome her
earlier opposition to helical structures and was in fact producing a
draft paper on 17 March 1953, in which she proposed a double-chain
helical structure for DNA. It did not, however, contain the crucial
idea of base pairing, nor did she realize that the two chains must run
in opposite directions. She first heard of the Watson-Crick model on
the following day.

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)

Rosalind Franklin was a physical chemist who is best remembered for
her contributions to the studies of coal, DNA, and plant viruses. She
was born in London on July 25, 1920, the daughter of well-to-do Jewish
parents. She received an excellent background in physics and chemistry
at St. Paul's Girls' School and entered Cambridge University in 1938.

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