Cracking the DNA code
The one thing we know for sure about Rosalind Franklyn is that innovation was in her DNA. In fact, she played a key role in decoding it.
Rarely can the significance of a single photo have been more significant than that taken by Dr Franklyn back in 1951 at Kings College, London, using a process known as x-ray diffraction. Called Photo 51, it unlocked the mystery of the molecular structure of DNA, ultimately establishing its fabled double helix structure.
Tragically, Franklyn never got to see the fruits of her labor, dying of ovarian cancer at just 37. However, her work lived on – through the pioneering work of Maurice Wilkins (her former student), and then James Watson and Francis Crick who went on to win the Nobel Prize for their work (unfortunately for Franklyn, the prize is not awarded posthumously).
Without these people, DNA as we know it today could well have remained a mystery…
Franklyn also did important research into the micro-structure and properties of coals and other carbons - where DSM itself has its roots), and spent the last five years of her career elucidating the structure of plant viruses, notably the tobacco mosaic virus; as well as the polio virus.
The passing of time has been kind to Franklyn, who like her friend Marie Curie, operated in an era when science was a fraternity and women were not welcome. Even her own father was lukewarm about her career…
Several generations later, Franklyn’s story has inspired books, movies, plays, documentaries, and various other epitaphs. The majority of them acknowledge her role as the unofficial ‘godmother’ of DNA.
Rosalind Franklyn may no longer be alive and her name never appeared on a Nobel Prize. But she is certainly no unsung hero.