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Women's History Month: Rosalind Franklin

by Amanda Zheng

Rosalind Franklin

When we see the spiral double helix model of DNA in biology classes, we often take for granted that we easily know what the structure looks like. Back in the 1900s when biologists were just beginning to learn of the new field of genetics and the genetic material of DNA, scientists were tasked with the challenge of figuring out what the DNA looked like and what it was made of all while it was too small to be seen. A solution was found by Rosalind Franklin.

Born on July 25, 1920, in Notting Hill, London, England, Franklin displayed exceptional intelligence from early knew from the age of 15 that she wanted to be a scientist. She studied Chemistry at Newnham College and went on to work at the British Coal Utilisation Research Association, where she studied the porosity of coal. In the fall of 1946, Franklin was appointed at the Laboratoire Central des Services Chimiques de l'Etat in Paris, where she worked with crystallographer Jacques Mering who taught her X-ray diffraction. In January 1951, Franklin began working as a research associate at the King's College London where she made an amazing discovery: She took an X-ray diffraction picture of DNA, known as Photograph 51, became famous as critical evidence in identifying the structure of DNA. It took Franklin over 100 hours of X-ray exposure to achieve the picture.

Photograph 51

Unfortunately, Rosalind Franklin is rarely credited with the discovery of DNA, which is usually credited to Watson and Crick’s Nature article in 1953. Much of their discovery hinged on Franklin’s photograph 51, and the picture was even included in their article without accrediting it to Franklin.

In a time and field dominated by male scientists, Franklin was able to work diligently and discover one of the most groundbreaking discoveries of the time. This is the time to remember her achievements and remember that women belong in STEM!



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