Rosalind Franklin (1920–1958) was the daughter of a prominent London banking family, where all children—girls and boys—were encouraged to develop their individual aptitudes. She held her undergraduate and graduate degrees in chemistry from Cambridge University. During World War II she gave up her research scholarship to contribute to the war effort at the British Coal Utilization Research Association, where she performed fundamental investigations on the properties of coal and graphite.
After World War II she joined the Laboratoire Centrale des Services Chimiques de l'Etat in Paris, where she was introduced to the technique of X-ray crystallography and rapidly became a respected authority in this field. In 1951 she returned to England to King's College, London, where her charge was to upgrade the X-ray crystallographic laboratory there for work with DNA. Franklin's excellent X-ray photographs were integral and critical to the discovery of the DNA double helix structure, initially attributed to James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. Even though Watson and Crick published their "discovery" letter in Nature, they alluded to the role of Franklin's crystallographic work on the DNA molecule as a basis of their finding. Later, Franklin went to Birkbeck College, London, to work. Before her death she made important contributions to the X-ray crystallographic analysis of the structure of the tobacco mosaic virus—a landmark in the field.
Franklin died of cancer at the age of 37. Although she did not share in the Nobel Prize awarded for the discovery of the double helix, the importance of her work to the elucidation of the structure of DNA is becoming more clear through the lens of history.
- Brenda Maddox. 2003. Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA. 416 pages
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