In the earlier half of the twentieth century, the discovery of the secrets of life was a goal that many scientists and researchers sought after. There was a brilliant researcher on the frontlines of this effort that brought with her considerable talents. She made important contributions to the study of the DNA molecule or deoxyribonucleic acid, and her name was Rosalind Franklin.
Born on July 25th, 1920 in Notting Hill, London to an influential British-Jewish family, Rosalind Elsie Franklin may never have known the future influence that her life would have on the advancement of women in the scientific fields. Educated at St. Paul’s Girls’ School (one of the few schools for girls that included scientific study) and North London Collegiate School, she excelled in the sciences from a very young age. In 1938, she attended Newnham College in Cambridge to study chemistry within the Natural Sciences Tripos and was awarded Second Class Honors in her finals, which is the equivalent of today’s bachelor’s degree. She did not let the prevailing social standard in place for women at the time prevent her from succeeding, and later went on to graduate with a Ph.D. from Cambridge University.
After receiving her doctorate, she learned the chemical characterization techniques of x-ray crystallography and x-ray diffraction during her four years spent at the Laboratoire Central des Services Chimiques de L’Etat, located in Paris, France. These techniques reveal information about the structure, composition, and physical properties of materials. She later found work as a research associate for John Randall at King’s College, London, in 1951, where she would apply this knowledge to her given assignment of the study of the chemical structure of DNA.
Her research at King’s College led to the discovery that a DNA molecule consists of an intertwined double helix of atoms. Franklin’s role in this discovery remains controversial to this day. It is known that a photograph (“Photograph 51”), which she took, was shown without her permission to two other researchers at the Medical Research Council Biophysics Unit at King’s College by her supervisor, Maurice Wilkins. This image made it possible for Watson and Crick (the two colleagues) to construct a model of DNA that allowed them to comprehend to molecule’s structure. Wilkins, Crick and Watson were jointly awarded a Nobel Prize for the discovery many years after Franklin’s death. Rosalind may have received recognition for her role, but unfortunately the Nobel Prize may not be awarded posthumously. This was the single most important advancement in the field of modern biology up to that point, and would later lead to a further understanding of the human...