Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin

There is probably no other woman scientist with as much controversy surrounding her life and work as Rosalind Franklin. As a scientist Miss Franklin was distinguished by extreme clarity and perfection in everything she undertook.

Early Life:

Rosalind Franklin was born in London, England on 25th July 1920. Franklin did extremely well at science and then studied physics and chemistry. When she was 15, she decided to become a scientist.

Rosalind attended St Paul’s Girls’ School, London, where she displayed great talent in physics and chemistry. From there she went up to Newnham College, Cambridge in 1938. After graduation in 1941, she was awarded a research scholarship to work on gas chromatography, but left in 1942 to work at the British Coal Utilization Research Association, where she worked on the microstructure of coke. As a result of her research, she gained her Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree from Cambridge in 1945.


Contributions and Achievements:

Rosalind was asked to join a research group by John Randall. She had been asked to set up a laboratory to study DNA fibres using X-ray crystallography, where atoms can be precisely mapped by looking at the image of the crystal under an X-ray beam. She had the entire responsibility for determining the structure of DNA. Franklin was able to apply her knowledge of physical chemistry and as a result, she made thinner fibers in order to produce more exact and easier to interpret X-ray patterns.

She discovered A and B forms of DNA, but concentrated on A as it showed more X-ray spots. This form does not show the helical structure as well as form B, which she originally thought of as a ladder with bonds between the bases of the rungs. She did record in her laboratory notebook on the 24th February 1953 that she had revised her thinking to that of a three dimensional helix.

Twenty five years after the fact, the first clear recitation of Franklin’s contribution appeared. The Double Helix, although it was buried under allegations that Franklin did not know how to interpret her own data but her own publication in the same issue of Nature was the first publication of this more clarified X-ray image of DNA. The Double Helix inspired several people to investigate DNA history and Franklin’s contribution but the path to the Double Helix supplied information about original source materials for those that followed. After finishing her portion of the DNA work, Franklin led pioneering work on the tobacco mosaic and polio viruses.

Rosalind Franklin’s critical contributions to the Crick and Watson model was – Franklin’s lecture at the seminar in 1951, where she presented the two forms of the molecule, type A and type B, and her position whereby the phosphate units are located in the external part of the molecule. and she specified the amount of water to be found in the molecule in accordance with other parts of it, data that has considerable importance in terms of the stability of the molecule. Franklin was the first to discover and formulate these facts, which in fact constituted the basis for all later attempts to build a model of the molecule.

The rules of the Nobel Prize forbid posthumous nominations and because Rosalind Franklin had died in 1958 she was not eligible for nomination to the Nobel Prize subsequently awarded to Crick, Watson, and Wilkins. The award was for their body of work on nucleic acids and not exclusively for the discovery of the structure of DNA. By the time of the award Wilkins had been working on the structure of DNA for over 10 years, and had done much to confirm the Watson – Crick Model. Crick had been working on the genetic code at Cambridge and Watson had worked on RNA for some years.

A debate about the amount of credit due to Franklin continues. What is clear is that she did have a meaningful role in learning the structure of DNA and that she was a scientist of the first rank. Franklin also did important research into the micro-structure and properties of coals and other carbons, and spent the last five years of her career elucidating the structure of plant viruses, notably tobacco mosaic virus. She died at the age of 37 from complications arising from ovarian cancer.