Rosalind Franklin Facts

Who is Rosalind Franklin?

Rosalind Franklin was an English scientist. She is best known for her work in revealing the molecular structure of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal, and graphite.

During her life, her contributions to the discovery of DNA’s molecular structure were not given the credit they deserved.

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Facts About Rosalind Franklin

  • Rosalind Franklin was born in 1920 in Notting Hill, London.
  • At the age of six, she attended Norland Place School in London. She was a hardworking and able pupil, and she enjoyed playing hockey.
  • When she was eleven, Rosalind Franklin went to St Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith, London. She was an outstanding student, particularly in science and Latin lessons. She became a fluent French speaker, studied German, and frequently won awards for her academic achievements.
  • She was not a gifted musician. St Paul’s musical director, Gustav Holst, once asked Rosalind’s mother if her daughter had hearing problems.
  • In 1938, she studied chemistry at Newnham College, Cambridge.
  • At university, she met Adrienne Weill, a French refugee and former student of Marie Curie.
  • Rosalind Franklin was awarded a research fellowship at Newnham College, and she joined the University of Cambridge’s physical chemistry laboratory. She worked under Ronald Geroge Wreyford Norrish (who went on to win a Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1967).
  • Norrish and Rosalind Franklin did not get on, and she resigned after just one year of working in his laboratory.
  • In 1942, she worked as an assistant research officer at BCURA (British Coal Utilisation Research Association), studying coal’s porosity using helium to calculate its density. Her conclusions about the molecular structure of coal allowed her to classify coals and predict how they would perform as fuel, and how they could be used in World War 2 gas masks.
  • Her research into coal formed the basis of her1945 Ph.D. thesis.
  • While working at BCURA, Rosland Franklin also volunteered as an Air Raid Warden.
  • In 1947, with the help of Adrienne Weill, Rosalind Franklin secured a job in Paris as a researcher working at the Laboratoire Central des Services de l’État with Jacques Mering.
  • Mering used X-ray diffraction in his studies of rayon, and he taught Franklin the process of X-ray crystallography. She used it to study coal and the arrangement of atoms in graphite.
  • In 1950, Rosalind Franklin took up a three-year post at King’s College London. She worked in the Biophysics Unit under John Randall. As the most experienced X-ray diffraction researcher, she was instructed by John Randall to use this method to examine the fibres of DNA, taking over the work started by a researcher name Maurice Wilkins and his graduate student Raymond Gosling.
  • Unfortunately, John Randall did not clearly communicate with Wilkins about Rosalind Franklin’s new role, and as a result, Wilkins and Franklin had a difficult relationship.
  • Working with Gosling, Rosalind Franklin soon managed to achieve higher-quality images of DNA than Wilkins had been able to obtain.
  • In a draft manuscript written on March 17th, 1953, she concluded that both A-DNA and B-DNA forms had two helices. Evidence that she had identified the correct structure of DNA independently of the work carried out by Francis Crick and James Watson (who had been given access to her images, including Photo 51, and her research data).
  • Rosalind Franklin’s crucial work in the discovery of the structure of DNA was not cited in Watson and Crick’s original paper on the subject.
  • In 1953, Franklin left King’s College London for Birkbeck College.
  • She used X-ray crystallography to study the structure of an RNA virus called the tobacco mosaic virus. She worked with a scientist called Aaron Klug.
  • She was invited to make a model of the tobacco mosaic virus for Expo 58 in Brussels, the first international fair to take place after World War 2.
  • In 1956. she began to research the structure of the polio virus. Following her death, her work was continued by Aaron Klug and the other members of the team she had assembled.
  • Rosalind Franklin loved to travel, visiting France, Norway, and the United States.
  • She didn’t like it when people called her Rosy because it reminded her of her great-aunt Rosy.
  • In 1956, two tumors were found in her abdomen. She continued to work while undergoing cancer treatment. She died on 16th April 1958 of ovarian cancer. Some people believe that her exposure to X-ray radiation may have caused her illness.
  • Her colleague Aaron Klug was the main beneficiary of her will.
  • Her contribution to the discovery of the structure of DNA was the subject of the Life Story TV movie, starring Juliet Stevenson and Jeff Goldblum.
  • Since her death, she has received dozens of awards and honours. Many university buildings, laboratories, and libraries have been named after her, and in 2020 A UK 50-pence coin was minted to celebrate what would have been her 100th birthday. It featured an image based on Photo 51.
  • The European Space Agency named its 2019 ExoMars rover Rosalind Franklin.
  • In 2020, the metal band Helion Prime released a song called Photo 51. The song’s artwork featured a photo of Rosalind Franklin.

Science, for me, gives a partial explanation for life. In so far as it goes, it is based on fact, experience and experiment.

Rosalind Franklin, 1940.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why was Rosalind Franklin not awarded the Nobel Prize?

Rosalind Franklin’s early death was the biggest factor in her not receiving a Nobel Prize. Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins received their Nobel Prize for the discovery of DNA’s structure in 1962 (four years after her untimely death). Even if her contributions had been appropriately acknowledged at the time, she wasn’t alive when the award was made.

The same is true of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry awarded to Aaron Klug in 1982. Based on work started by Rosalind Franklin, it is highly likely that, had she lived long enough, she would have shared the Nobel Prize with her former colleague.

Since 1974, the Nobel Prize cannot be awarded posthumously.

Why was she called the ‘Dark Lady of DNA’?

She was called the ‘Dark Lady of DNA’ by her biographer, Brenda Maddox. This moniker referred to the fact that her crucial contribution to the discovery of DNA’s structure was not properly acknowledged during her life. The also refers to a negative comment made by one of her co-workers in an interview about Rosalind Franklin.

How did Rosalind Franklin change the world?

Her research contributed to the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA. This provided the foundation for all of the DNA-related research that has been carried out since, and this has led to improved medical treatments, better disease diagnosis, agricultural improvements, improvements in forensic science, and genealogical applications.