Unsung heroine of DNA - Rosalind Franklin
Since her death at age 37 in 1958, the British scientist Rosalind Franklin has been remembered mostly as the “wronged heroine of DNA”. And as a victim of male prejudice, deprived of the Nobel Prize that went instead to three men who had relied on her work to construct the double-helix structure of DNA.
- In recent years, though, science historians and commentators have stressed all the other achievements she needs to be remembered for.
- Especially in 2020, when her birth centenary coincides with the Covid-19 pandemic. Franklin was one of the leading virologists of her time — and more.
- Today is her 100th birth anniversary.
- In 1952, Raymond Gosling, a graduate student at King’s College London, took a historic X-ray photograph under Franklin’s supervision.
- Photo 51, as it is called, demonstrates the now-familiar, double-helix structure of DNA.
- Four years after Franklin died of ovarian cancer, the 1962 Nobel Prize for Medicine went to James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins for their work on the structure of DNA.
- The Nobel is not awarded posthumously.
- Wilkins was Franklin’s colleague at King’s College. He had shown Photo 51 to Watson, then at Cambridge, without Franklin’s knowledge.
- Her precise measurements, too, had reached Watson and Crick through “irregular routes”, Franklin’s biographer Brenda Maddox, now deceased, wrote in an article for Nature in 2003.
- Watson and Crick used the knowledge gained from Photo 51, Franklin’s unpublished notes, and their own intuition to construct the double-helix structure of DNA.
- Wilkins improved on their model over the years, leading to the three sharing the Nobel.