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Rosalind Franklin - Arguably one of the Most Important Women Scientists After Marie Curie.

15 February 2021

Discoveries were made that led to huge advances in our understanding of human biology and enabled the advances that we now use successfully in medicine and scientific research every day were born out of post war research to explore fundamental questions like what is DNA and how does it carry the genetic information that we need in every structure of the body to make us who and what we are?


It was also a time of significant lack of respect for the role of women scientists. The first general attempt to explain the miraculous structure of DNA to the general population was published by James Watson and his collaborator Francis Crick in 1968 in a short book called “The Double Helix”. It charted the important work that led Watson and Crick’s recognition that DNA was a molecule that was helical in structure that could pack an amazing amount of molecular information into a very small space. However, the concept of the “Double Helix” came from the x-ray crystallography work of Rosalind Franklin. Unknown to her, her colleague Maurice Wilkins showed Watson and Crick a photograph of one of Franklins exquisite x-ray crystallography studies -known now as “Photograph 51” - clearly indicating that DNA had a double helical structure. Franklin died from cancer in 1958 at the age of 37. Its likely that the lack of protection from harmful radiation during her work contributed to her early death. Crick, Watson, and Wilkins were awarded the Nobel prize for their DNA work in 1962. Sadly, the Nobel Prize could not be awarded posthumously so Franklin's contribution was not recognised. A book “The Dark Lady of DNA “ published by Brenda Maddox in 1975 put the record straight. Watson was frequently criticised for his disrespectful comments about Rosalind Franklin, but Crick described her contribution to understanding the structure of DNA as “crucial”.

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