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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 Franklin

Posted August 06, 2018 4:30 PM by lmno24

Rosalind Franklin is a big reason why we know as much as we do about our genes. She was born and educated in England. She was educated at a private school for girls. Then she went to Newnham College in Cambridge and studied natural science and graduated in 1941. Franklin’s family was very wealthy and both sides were involved in many social circles. Her father wanted to be a scientist, but his dream was cut short by World War I and he became a college professor instead. He discouraged her dreams of becoming a scientist but she went and did it anyway.

After college, she was awarded a research scholarship in R.G.W. Norrish’s lab. Norrish recognized her potential but offered little direction or support to her. She was offered a position as a research officer at the British Coal Utilization Research Association (CURA) and left the fellowship to pursue it.

CURA was just starting out when she joined and most of her work was done independently, which suited Franklin. She worked there from 1942 to 1947 and published numerous papers on coal.

This research helped her focus in her Ph.D research topic and later let her travel the world discussing her discoveries. However, her most significant work came after this. In 1946, she moved to Paris and worked on her X-ray crystallography skills. She loved the Parisian lifestyle but moved back to London after four years.

She then became a research associate at King's College London in 1951 and worked on X-ray diffraction studies. This would eventually facilitate the double helix theory of the DNA, the work she’s know best for. In 1953, after two years, she moved on to Birbeck College. She had some disagreements with her director and colleagues, specifically Maurice Wilkins who immediately assumed she was hired as an assistant, not a fellow researcher.

She was able to work well with her colleague Raymond Gosling. They were able to get two sets of high-resolution photos of crystalized DNA. She used the two fibers to analyze, one was more hydrated than the other. She inferred that the phosphates were on the outside of a helical structure.

Wilkins got ahold of some of her unpublished data and along with his friend Francis Crick and created what became their famous DNA model. Franklin’s work was the basis for their “research” and she was not acknowledged.

She left King’s College for a new opportunity at Birbeck College, which she had described as "moving from a palace to the slums ... but pleasanter all the same." She published many papers and work on the tobacco mosaic virus. During much of this time she was suffering from ovarian cancer. She died from the disease in 1958.

In 1962, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins for solving the structure of DNA. While the Nobel does not give posthumous prizes, she is commonly known as the brains behind this discovery today.

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#1

Re: Woman of the Week – Rosalind Franklin

08/07/2018 8:19 AM

When I learned about Rosalind Franklin's seminal contribution to decoding DNA structure I was furious that Watson and Crick got more recognition than she did. As I recall Watson and Crick raced to get their paper on the structure published in Nature before Franklin and Maurice Wilkins, her colleague at UCL, could get their own into print. Without Franklin's X-ray crystallographic genius I don't think the two men at Cambridge would have hit on the double helix -- but this is admittedly a controversial opinion.

I highly recommend Howard Freeland Judson's recounting of the race to discover DNA's structure in his book The Eighth Day of Creation.

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#2

Re: Woman of the Week – Rosalind Franklin

08/07/2018 10:46 PM

"While the Nobel does not give posthumous prizes, she is commonly known as the brains behind this discovery today"

It would bode well for the Nobels to set the record straight, even if she is dead.

& by the way, what a different scenario it would be for researchers and for research fields if the question for researchers was not 'publish OR patent?', but 'publish IS patent!'

Stuart.

Intellectual Property Rightful Owners Action Group.

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