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STEM Celebrity Spotlight: Rosalind Franklin

By Siri Doddapaneni

Rosalind Elsie Franklin was the second of Ellis Franklin and Muriel Waley's five children. She received her early education at the exclusive Norland Place School before transferring to the exclusive St. Paul's Girls' School, where she excelled in physics and chemistry and won numerous awards. Franklin enrolled at Newnham College in Cambridge in 1938, where she graduated with a degree in natural sciences. She developed her X-ray crystallography talents at a fellowship at the Laboratoire Central des Services Chimiques de l'État in Paris.

Franklin returned to England at the start of World War II and began working on coal and graphite-related projects with the British Coal Utilisation Research Association. During this time, she strengthened her understanding of X-ray crystallography and gained knowledge that would be essential to her later work. Franklin pursued a Ph.D. at King's College London following the war, where she used X-ray diffraction methods to study coal’s microstructure. She received a Ph.D. in physical chemistry for her work in 1945 and carried on her studies as a postdoctoral researcher.

Franklin joined the King's College London Biophysical Laboratory in 1951, where she started her investigation into DNA fibers. Franklin examined the structure of DNA using X-ray crystallography, creating high-resolution X-ray photographs of DNA fibers. Her research resulted in the identification of the B-DNA form, which revealed information regarding the molecule's helical shape. Franklin's most well-known work, however, was Photo 51, an excellent X-ray diffraction photograph of DNA. This image was important evidence showing the helical structure of DNA, which was crucial in James Watson and Francis Crick's eventual discovery of the double helix.

However, Franklin sadly passed away before seeing her contributions to science fully acknowledged. In her professional life, she encountered many difficulties such as strained relationships with some coworkers. Without her knowledge or approval, Watson and Crick were given access to her crucial data, which eventually led to the publishing of the renowned double-helix model without her credit in 1953.

Ovarian cancer claimed Rosalind Franklin's life in 1958 at the age of 37. Her legacy in science endures to this day through the Rosalind Franklin Mars rover, which was launched as part of the ExoMars mission, and the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science. Since then, Rosalind Franklin's work has received praise and recognition for playing a crucial part in the discovery of DNA. Her contributions to science have been more recognized after her death, and now, she is recognized as one of the founding figures of molecular biology and X-ray crystallography.

Works Cited

“Biographical Overview | Rosalind Franklin - Profiles in Science.” U.S. National Library of

Medicine, Accessed 3 Aug.


“Rosalind Franklin.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 21 July 2023,


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