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Scientist Rosalind Franklin: Biography & Quotes

Instructor: Chinequa Shelander
Dr. Rosalind Franklin was a scientist who is known for her work in the discovery of the structure of DNA. Being a pioneer in science in the late 1940s and 1950s, her story is amazing and also controversial. Learn about her life and accomplishments below.

Background

Biology, the study of life! We have all had a biology class, or two or three, depending on your interest. These classes teach us about life and the scientists who contributed to the field. If you've studied biology, you've likely heard the story of Watson and Crick, the two male scientists who are credited with the discovery of the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Many of our textbooks forget to give the credit to Dr. Rosalind Franklin. Dr. Franklin broke barriers for many female scientists today. Unfortunately, she had a little drama surrounding her life - so much so that if her story were a movie, it might be called As the DNA Turns.

Early Years and Schooling

Rosalind Franklin was born on July 25, 1920, in London, England. She was fifteen years old when she decided she wanted to pursue a career in science. Rosalind broke many barriers and instead of pursuing a career as a social worker (that was her father's desire), she enrolled in Newnham College. She then began working on her doctorate in physical chemistry, which she earned in 1945 from Cambridge University. Just call her Dr. Franklin.

Research Accomplishments

After her schooling, Dr. Franklin took her talents to Paris (oui, oui), where she worked in a laboratory for three years (1947-1950). While working in this laboratory she learned how to do X-ray diffraction. This technique became very important later on in her career.

After perfecting the technique of X-ray diffraction, Dr. Franklin left Paris to work with a colleague, John Randall, in his laboratory in London. Well, John Randall gave Rosalind a project that no one in his lab had worked on in a very long time. He asked her to concern her time with DNA.

While leading the research on DNA, there was another researcher by the name of Maurice Wilkins also working on a DNA project. He becomes the center of her drama! Dr. Franklin beat Wilkins at obtaining an X-ray diffraction of DNA and its structure, and he did not like being beat by a woman. It is told that Wilkins treated Franklin not like one of his peers, but more like a research technician.

Unfortunately, Dr. Franklin was unable to publish her results; she was beaten to the publication by Watson and Crick. It is believed that Wilkins actually showed Franklin's X-ray picture to Watson and Crick, and the results were submitted immediately for publication. To her credit, her article was cited as a reference in the same publication.

Dr. Franklin is known for the quote ''Science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated.'' She loved science and paved the way for so many women. There is still a continued debate as to how much credit she should receive for the discovery of the double helix. After her work with DNA, Dr. Franklin continued to pioneer her way through the research world. She went on to work on understanding the tobacco mosaic virus and the polio virus.

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