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Living Paintings

Science Factsheet – Rosalind Franklin

Head shot, black and white, of a woman with her hand to her chin looking at the camera.

Name: Rosalind Franklin

Field of science: Chemistry – genetics

Born: 25th July 1920, in London, England, died in 1958 from ovarian cancer

Best known for: her role in the discovery of the structure of DNA

Where and what did she study? When Franklin graduated from Cambridge in 1941, women could not receive fully-fledged BA degrees. It was only once Cambridge changed its regulations in 1947 that Franklin was awarded her bachelor’s degree.

How did she do it? Franklin was an expert in the use of X-ray to build pictures of molecules. After joining King’s College, University of London at the age of 30, she started working on finding out what DNA looked like using her X-ray skills.

Why is Franklin not so well known as other important scientists? Franklin’s colleague Maurice Wilkins and two other scientists (James Watson and Francis Crick) used Franklin’s research to create their own DNA model in a helix shape.

What happened next? Her now famous X-ray photograph, Photo 51, proved that DNA was in fact a helix, just like this:

DNA helix computer generated image, showing linking lines in a twirling pattern.

This photograph tied in neatly with Wilkins, Watson and Crick’s ideas so they published their findings and were awarded a Nobel Prize in 1962. Franklin didn’t receive any recognition for her crucial role in the discovery.

Any famous quotes? “Science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated”

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