Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin

Biophysicist

Rosalind Franklin (19201958) is most famous for her work in X-ray spectroscopy, taking images of DNA molecules at King’s College London. ‘Photograph 51’, an image she took in 1952, demonstrated the helical structure of DNA and enabled James Watson and Francis Crick to build the first model of the molecule.

Rosalind was a Cambridge-educated scientist who worked as a research associate at King’s from 1951–52. Photograph 51 was one of a number of images taken by Rosalind and her research student, Raymond Gosling. The photograph was shown to James Watson and Francis Crick by Rosalind’s colleague Maurice Wilkins, without her agreement or knowledge.

Photograph 51

Photograph 51: DNA X-ray diffraction image  

Franklin left King’s in 1953 and set up a research team at Birkbeck College, a constituent college of the University of London, investigating the structure of RNA (a nucleic acid essential for life) and viruses. The papers she and her team published before her untimely death from ovarian cancer in 1958, laid the foundations for the field of structural virology.

James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. Rosalind could not be awarded the Nobel as the committee does not consider posthumous nominations.

Did you know: Amongst Rosalind’s many posthumous honours was a 2013 Google doodle depicting her alongside a diagram of the DNA double helix and an illustration of Photograph 51.