Today would have been the 100th birthday of the English chemist Rosalind Franklin, a brilliant and committed scientist best known for her honor: the 1962 Nobel Prize for discovering the structure of DNA. Here are 15 facts about the famous scientist.
1. Rosalind Franklin discovered her calling early, but her father did not believe that women should have a university education.
Rosalind Elsie Franklin was born in London in 1920. She was one of five children born into a wealthy Jewish family. She decided to become a scientist at the age of 15 and passed the entrance exam for Cambridge University. However, her father Ellis, a banker, refused to allow women to go to college and refused to pay her tuition. Her aunt and mother finally managed to change his mind, and she enrolled at the all-female Newnham College in Cambridge in 1
2. Rosalind Franklin attended college with another woman who did not receive full recognition for her work.
Bletchley Park cryptanalyst Joan Clarke was a few years older than Franklin, but both were in Newnham in the late 1930s. Clarke would continue to be recruited for the war effort and crack the German Enigma codes. The full extent of Clarke’s work is still unknown due to the government secret.
3. The University of Rosalind Franklin has for years refused to recognize her academic performance.
Although Newnham College has been in Cambridge since 1871, the university refused to accept women as full members until 1948, seven years after Franklin’s chemistry degree. Oxford University began awarding women’s degrees in 1920.
4. Rosalind Franklin’s research on coal supported the aerospace industry.
Upon graduation, Franklin got a job at the British Coal Utilization Research Association (BCURA), where she researched coal and charcoal and how it could be used for more than just fuel. Her research formed the basis for her doctoral thesis from 1945; es and some of her later work on the microstructures of carbon fibers played a role in the possible use of carbon composites in aerospace engineering.
5. Rosalind Franklin’s male colleagues were hostile and undermined their research.
Franklin was direct in nature and didn’t want to be traditionally female. One reason she left Cambridge to work on coal was because her PhD supervisor didn’t like her and believed that women would always be less than men. When she was hired to work on DNA at King’s College in London in 1951, she ran into the researcher Maurice Wilkins, who thought she was his assistant, not his. In the meantime, Franklin had the impression that she would be completely independent. Their relationship got worse the longer they worked together. Wilkins went so far as to share Franklin’s research without sharing it with James Watson and Francis Crick – although technically they were his rivals funded by the University of Cambridge. Watson was particularly angry in his 1968 book about Franklin. The double helixcriticized her appearance and said she had to be “put in her place”.
6. How events happened when the DNA structure was discovered is still being discussed today.
Many books have been written about events that either criticized Watson and Crick, said they had stolen Franklin’s research, or defended the duo and said their research had helped them, but Franklin would not have come to their conclusions in the end. Although Franklin and Watson never became friendly, Crick and his wife welcomed Franklin to their home while they were being treated for ovarian cancer.
7. Rosalind Franklin’s work could have led to her early death.
Franklin died of cancer in 1958. She was 37 years old. Although genetics probably played a role in her disease, her work with crystal X-ray diffraction, which involved constant radiation exposure, did not help. She is not the first woman in science to risk her health for her research. Marie Curie died of aplastic anemia, which has been associated with radiation exposure. Many of Curie’s personal items, including her cookbooks, are too radioactive to handle today.
8. If Rosalind Franklin had lived longer, she might have qualified for more than one Nobel Prize.
The first, of course, would have been awarded Watson, Crick, and Wilkins if they were made to share with their credit. (Pierre Curie had to ask the Nobel Committee to add his wife to the nomination in 1903.) As for the second, chemist Aaron Klug won the award in 1982 and continued the work he and Franklin had started with viruses in 1953 after King’s left College. Due to the rules at the time of her death regarding posthumous awarding of prizes (and in 1974 all posthumous prices were canceled, with the exception of 2011), Franklin has none.
9. Despite the refusal to accept the Nobel Prize, Rosalind Franklin’s contributions have been recognized and appreciated by many scientists.
In 2004 the Chicago Medical School changed its name to Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science. She has also named a number of academic programs, auditoriums and laboratories after her. In 2013, Dame Carol Black, director of Newnham College, helped install a memorial plaque to commemorate Franklin at the Eagle Pub in Cambridge. Crick and Watson, who already had a plaque in the pub, often drank there while working on the DNA project and reportedly boasted of discovering the “secret of life” to other customers.
10. Rosalind Franklin is the subject of several biographies.
The first, 1975s Rosalind Franklin and DNAwas written by her friend Anne Sayre, mostly in response to Watsons The double helix. In 2002, Brenda published Maddox Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA.
11. There is an object in the room that is named after Rosalind Franklin.
In 1997, the Australian amateur astronomer John Broughton discovered an asteroid, which he called 9241 Rosfranklin.
12. At least one rap fight is about Rosalind Franklin.
It was produced by sevens in Oakland, California (with the help of teacher Tom McFadden). And it’s wonderful.
13. Rosalind Franklin was immortalized both on the small screen and on the big stage.
In 1987 the BBC’s Horizon series was broadcast The race for the double helixwith Juliet Stevenson as Franklin. Jeff Goldblum played Watson. In 2011 the playwright Anna Ziegler premiered a one-act about Franklin Photo 51. It opened in the West End in 2015 with Nicole Kidman as Franklin.
14. The 2015 run of Photo 51 sparked the old controversy.
While Kidman received a lot of praise from critics for being Franklin’s turn Photo 51Maurice Wilkins’ friends and former colleagues made an exception to a scene in which Wilkins takes a photo – cover photo 51, which shows evidence of the structure of DNA – from Franklin’s desk when it isn’t there, and says he would never have done anything dishonorable.
15. The game Photo 51 can be adapted to the big screen.
In 2016, director of West End production Michael Grandage told The Hollywood Reporter that he hopes to turn the play into a movie – with Kidman playing the role again.
This story was updated for 2020.