Monday, July 15, 2013

Biography of Rosalind Franklin

by kellyc, This post originally appeared at Future Science Leaders.
Rosalind Franklin was born in 1920 in London, England.  She demonstrated unusual intelligence in her childhood, and aspired to be a scientist since the age of 15. She attended the North London Collegiate School, where she excelled in many subjects, including the sciences.
In 1938, Franklin enrolled at Newnham College, Cambridge and read chemistry. She graduated in 1941 and began researching the porosity of coal at the British Coal Utilisation Research Association. 4 years later in 1945, she obtained her PhD with a thesis titled, ”The physical chemistry of solid organic colloids with special reference to coal.”
In 1946, Franklin began working at the Laboratoire Central des Services Chimiques de l’Etat in Paris alongside the crystallographer Jacques Mering. Here, she learned the techniques of X-ray diffraction and eventually discovered the use of x-rays to create images of crystalized solids. With this, Franklin was able to analyze complex matter rather than simple, single crystals.
In 1951, Franklin began working as a biophysics researcher at the King’s College London, working closely with director John Randall, who learned from her skills with X-ray diffraction and analyzed proteins and lipids in solution, as well as DNA fibres. While studying DNA structure with X-ray diffraction, Franklin made an enormous discovery. While taking pictures of DNA and spending over 100 hours of X-ray exposure from a machine that Franklin had helped design and refine, she discovered there were dry and wet forms of DNA, and one of her photographs of the wet form of DNA. This image, now known as Photograph 51, became famous and served as important evidence in identifying the DNA structure.
Franklin was known as a meticulous, precise, and careful scientist. John Bernal, a British pioneer in X-ray crystallography said, “As a scientist Miss Franklin was distinguished by extreme clarity and perfection in everything she undertook,” he said. “Her photographs were among the most beautiful X-ray photographs of any substance ever taken. Their excellence was the fruit of extreme care in preparation and mounting of the specimens as well as in the taking of the photographs.”
Despite her excellent work ethic, troubles arose: Franklin’s colleague Maurice Wilkins showed Photograph 51, without Franklin’s knowledge or consent, to a competing scientist, James Watson. Watson, who at the time was working on the DNA model with Francis Crick at Cambridge, used Franklin’s photograph as the basis of their now-famous model of DNA, the double-helix. They published it on March 7th, 1953 and were subsequently awarded the Nobel prize in 1962. Franklin, unfortunately, was not credited – a footnote in their publication acknowledged they were ”stimulated by a general knowledge” and made no mention to Franklin or her significant contribution to their finding.
In March 1953, Franklin left King’s College and relocate to Birkbeck College, studying the structure of the tobacco mosaic virus and structure of RNA. She published 17 papers on viruses in the span of 5 years, and alongside her colleagues, laid the foundations for structural virology. In 1956, Franklin was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and died on April 16, 1958 at the age of 37.
Bibliography
http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/franklin.html
http://www.biography.com/people/rosalind-franklin-9301344?page=1

About this contributor: Kelly is an ocean lover and high school student, and is particularly fascinated by whales. She enjoys being outdoors, writing, traveling and meeting new people.

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