‘All the cool historical (and sometimes modern) Ladies!’ : Rosalind Franklin
It’s the end of March so after a month of fervent university work, I’m going to jump in with my first instalment of ‘All the cool historical (and sometimes modern) ladies!’.
So I’m going to tell you about some wonderfully intelligent and awesome (do I say awesome too much? Probably…) lady scientists. Now these are only tit bits of their contributions to science, so these posts are more about giving you an incentive to read all about these rad women. I’m currently studying zoology at university and even though biology is one of the most representative sciences for women (say compared to physics) there is still a gender bias. It angers me and all too often the women of science find their work stolen or forgotten by history.
Well I say, “Fuck that noise.”
Introducing lady number one: Rosalind Franklin.
I’m sure you’ve heard of her. If not, you’re about to. She was a Jewish, British Chemist and X-ray crystallographer. She studied at Newham college in Cambridge, but was only awarded a degree titular (all name no substance), after passing her finals in 1941 due to sexist white men in power at the time (ah sweet history). She went on to earn her PhD anyway studying the porosity of coal before moving to Paris in 1946 where she perfected her skills in X-ray crystallography.
In January 1951 she began working at King’s College London as a research assistant, there she studied DNA structure with X-ray diffraction. She and her student Raymond Gosling found two forms of DNA and one of their photographs of the two forms became critical evidence in confirming the structure of DNA; photograph 51. Enter Maurice Williams, he and Franklin did not get on and clashed somewhat. So being the mature adult he was, he showed James Watson who was working with Francis Crick in Cambridge on the structure of DNA at the time, photograph 51 without Rosalind’s knowledge.
Watson and Crick used this photograph and her other research as a large basis for their theory on the structure of DNA and went on to win the Nobel prize for their work. Rosalind received no acknowledgement in their acceptance speech and her contributions to discovering the structure of DNA is often forgotten. She left King’s college in 1953 and worked at Birkbeck College studying the tobacco mosaic virus and the structure of RNA. She also returned to studying coal and published 17 papers on viruses, work which began the research into structural virology.
In 1956 she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, it is believed this could have been caused by the exposure to radiation when taking photographs of DNA after X-ray diffraction. She continued working for the next two years despite having several operations and undergoing draining cancer treatment. After a short remission, at age 37 on the 16th of April 1958 she died. Rosalind Franklin deserved better from the scientific community, she was a brilliant scientist and serves as an inspiration to women the world over.