Rosalind Franklin: DNA’s unsung hero

Watson described Rosalind as a hostile lady in his “The Double Helix”. Later, Franklin’s biographer cleared that image of her after interviewing her closed ones. Instead, it can be said that her scientific contributions are never given enough recognitions.


Early Life

She was born in London, in the year 1920. Her full name is Rosalind Elsie Franklin. She was ambitious as a teenager and dreamt of becoming a scientist someday. At that time, scientist was not an easy career choice for women. But her qualities made her excellent in science. She won a scholarship to Cambridge to study chemistry. She completed her PHD there.

Later she continued her research on the structure of coal. This research led to formation of better gas masks, that aided the British during World War II.

Professional Experience

Franklin joined King’s College to use X-Ray techniques to study the structure of DNA, in 1951. It was one of the trendiest topics at that time. During that time, the academic culture hasn’t adopted the idea of educated intellectual women quite well. Thus, Franklin was isolated from her colleagues, as most of them were men.

She had a clash with Maurice Wilkins, since Maurice misjudged Franklin as his lab assistant. These didn’t stop Franklin. She kept working.

Work on DNA

In 1952, Franklin found Photo 51, the most famous x-ray image of DNA. It took her 100 hours to get that. Therefore, the further necessary calculations that are needed to analyze it, would have taken her another year. During that time, the British physicist Francis Crick and an American biologist James Watson, were working on the same topic. Wilkins took Photo 51 and showed that to Watson and Crick, without taking Franklin’s permission. With that, they didn’t calculate the exact position of each atom; Instead, they used her data to give few potential possible structures. Soon, they arrived at the right one.

DNA has 2 helicoidal strands, in such a way that one opposite the other with bases in the center looks like rungs of a ladder. In the April of 1953, Watson and Crick published their model. During that time, Franklin too has completed and submitted her manuscript on the model of the DNA. However, the journal published both the manuscripts, but kept Franklin’s script at last. This made her experiments a confirmation for whatever Watson and Crick has published.


Unfortunately, she didn’t work much after that and died of cancer in 1958. She didn’t even know that Watson and Crick have drawn their conclusion after seeing her photo. Later in 1962, Watson, Crick and Wilkins won the Noble Prize for their work on DNA.

Later, it was even disclosed that she could have won, not one but two noble prizes. Her another colleague won Nobel in 1982, based on her work on structure of viruses.

Therefore, Rosalind Elsie Franklin must be recognized by everyone as a woman who fought sexism in science at her time, and took medicine, biology and agriculture to next level or simply DNA’s unsung hero.

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