Rosalind Franklin pioneered the discovery of the structure of DNA, but died before she knew about the impact of her work.
Born in London on 25 July 1920, Rosalind Franklin was an X-ray crystallographer who is best known for her pioneering work that led to the discovery of the structure of DNA. However, when Rosalind died of ovarian cancer, aged only 37, she was unaware of how much her work had actually contributed to this discovery.
Whilst Rosalind was working at King’s College London, her X-ray images of DNA were shown to James Watson and Francis Crick, without her knowledge. It was these images, giving key data about the density of DNA and the dimensions of the helix spiral, which enabled Watson and Crick to build their model of DNA. Watson and Crick published their model in the journal Nature in 1953 but did not mention Rosalind’s X-ray images. When Rosalind died on 16 April 1958, she still did not know her work had been used directly. Four years later Watson, Crick and Maurice Wilkins (Franklin’s colleague) were awarded the Nobel Prize for their determination of the structure of DNA.
“The Nobel prizes… were four years after she’d died. It was very easy to ignore someone who wasn’t around”
(Jenifer Glynn - Rosalind’s sister)
Writer and biographer Jenifer Glynn gives the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Edwin Silvester an insight into the tragically short, yet nonetheless illustrious life of her older sister, Rosalind Franklin.
Interview by Edwin Silvester
Words by Isobel Marr
Images courtesy of Jenifer Glynn