WoW Blog (Woman of the Week) Blog

WoW Blog (Woman of the Week)

Each week this blog will feature a prominent woman who made significant contributions to engineering or science. If you have any women you'd like us to feature please let us know and we'll do our best to include them.

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Woman of the Week - Rosalind Elsie Franklin (July 25, 1920 – April 16, 1958)

Posted April 09, 2007 9:29 AM by julie

Rosalind Elsie Franklin, an important chemist, crystallographer and pioneer in molecular biology, was instrumental in discovering the structure of DNA through X-ray diffraction techniques. Her images were the basis for James Watson's and Francis Crick's hypothesis about the double-helix structure of DNA.

Growing up in England, Rosalind Franklin attended one of the few girls' schools in London that taught physics and chemistry. She excelled at science and decided to pursue a college degree in chemistry, enrolling at Newnham College, Cambridge, in 1938 and graduating in 1941. In 1945, she earned a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Cambridge University, where her work focused on carbon and graphite microstructures. Following the completion of her doctorate, Franklin spent four years at the Laboratoire Central des Services Chimiques de L'Etat in Paris, where she learned X-ray diffraction, a technique which determines a molecule's three-dimensional structure by analyzing the X-ray diffraction patterns of crystals that make up the molecule. Later, these techniques helped Franklin discover the structure of DNA.

In 1951, Rosalind Franklin returned to England as a research associate at John Randall's laboratory at King's College, London, where she determined that DNA had both an A and B form. Franklin also developed a method for separating the two forms, providing the first DNA crystals that were pure enough to yield interpretable diffraction patterns. When Randall assigned Franklin the task of analyzing the B form of DNA, she captured what is known as "Photograph 51" through 100 hours of X-ray exposure. This famous photograph allowed Franklin to discover basic facts about the overall structure of DNA.

Rosalind Franklin's discoveries also refuted some common misconceptions about DNA. For example, she learned that the location of DNA's sugar-phosphate backbone was on the outside of the molecule, and not on the inside as previously thought. Additionally, she discovered that the helical structure of DNA had two strands, and not three as was commonly presumed. The missing piece of the puzzle was how the bases paired on the inside of the helix, but James Watson and Francis Crick would eventually solve this mystery. In 1953, Watson and Crick published their now-famous scientific paper, using Photograph 51 as the basis for their famous model of DNA, and citing Franklin as a source.

Rosalind Franklin refocused her research soon after Watson's and Crick's paper was published, completing work on both the tobacco mouse virus and the polio virus, and laying the foundation for modern virology. In 1962, Watson, Crick and Franklin's colleague, Maurice Wilkins, were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the structure of DNA. Because Nobel Prizes are not awarded posthumously, however, Franklin, who had died four years earlier from ovarian cancer at the age of 37, was not honored along with her colleagues. Nevertheless, Franklin's measurable contributions to understanding the structure of DNA provided much of the foundation for modern genetics.

Resources:

http://www.sdsc.edu/ScienceWomen/franklin.html

http://www.accessexcellence.org/RC/AB/BC/Rosalind_Franklin.html

http://www.lifeindiscovery.com/whyrosalindfranklin/index.html

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#1

Re: Woman of the Week - Rosalind Elsie Franklin (July 25, 1920 – April 16, 1958)

04/10/2007 7:57 AM

Not to quibble (but that is one purpose of this site), Ms. Franklin worked on the tobacco mosaic virus. I am guessing there was a small typo that the spell check converted into someting that spelled better but was now very incorrect.

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#2
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Re: Woman of the Week - Rosalind Elsie Franklin (July 25, 1920 – April 16, 1958)

04/10/2007 8:36 AM

Thank you for pointing that out. You are correct, it should be the tobacco mosaic virus, not the tobacco mouse virus.

Julie

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#3

Re: Woman of the Week - Rosalind Elsie Franklin (July 25, 1920 – April 16, 1958)

04/10/2007 9:15 AM

Maybe there's a good reason for this, but I just don't see it. Why not give the Nobel Prize posthumously? It wasn't Ms. Franklin's fault that she succumbed to a cancer for which some other hero or heroine will someday find a cure.

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#4

Re: Woman of the Week - Rosalind Elsie Franklin (July 25, 1920 – April 16, 1958)

05/22/2007 9:42 AM

One purpose, and it may be the primary purpose, of the Nobel Prizes are to reward such research financially (with $$), in order that those selected researchers can continue their research without having to succomb to the 'ones with $$'. I suspect that is the reason they are not rewarded post-humously.

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Re: Woman of the Week - Rosalind Elsie Franklin (July 25, 1920 – April 16, 1958)

06/19/2007 1:17 PM

From the Nobel Prize Organization's Website:

Is it possible to nominate someone for a posthumous Nobel Prize?

No, it is not. Previously, a person could be awarded a prize posthumously if he/she had already been nominated (before February 1 of the same year), which was true of Erik Axel Karlfeldt (Nobel Prize in Literature 1931) and Dag Hammarskjöld (Nobel Peace Prize, 1961). Effective from 1974, the prize may only go to a deceased person to whom it was already awarded (usually in October) but who had died before he/she could receive the Prize on December 10 (William Vickrey, 1996 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economics in Memory of Alfred Nobel). See also par. 4 of the Statutes of the Nobel Foundation.

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