Rosalind Elsie Franklin was born July 25, 1920 in London, England. At the young age of 15, she had already made the decision that she wanted to be a scientist. After being able to attend one of the few schools that taught science, St. Paul’s Girls’ school, where she excelled in Physics and Chemistry. Her father was set against women having higher education as were most parents of the time period. He eventually gave in after her mother and aunt had stepped forward and said that she was to go, and she was allowed to to enroll in Newnham College, Cambridge where she graduated in 1941 (Maisel, 1997).
After completing a one year fellowship she quit to work at the British Coal Utilization Research Association. Here she was able to assist in the war effort by determining the best and most efficient ways to use the resource. The doctorate that she earned in 1945 was based on these research and findings of Graphite and Carbon. After obtaining her PhD, she began to develop her skills in Crystallography (this is where a lot of her work centered), which is taking x-ray pictures of crystallized forms. She spent most of her time in in Paris at the Laboratoire Central des Services Chimiques de L’Etat, and by 1950 she had decided that she wanted to go back to England and be a Scientist there. (PBS, 1998)
Upon returning to England she was recruited to work in a biophysicist lab by J.T. Randall at King’s College in London. Her research and unwavering methods had preceded her and she was known to the scientific community at this point. She had published many papers on her finding of carbon and graphite. This had earned her a prestigious place among men as a colleague. She was initially asked to work on proteins but later was asked to help work on DNA. This is where the water get a little murky. According to Georgina Ferry, Franklin had been given the go ahead that she would be in charge of the DNA, whereas Wilkins, who had started the project, thought that she would be assisting him.(Ferry, 2004)
She was able to produce an X-ray that could be read and was so clear it was unlike all the others that had been produced of DNA. It was this single x-ray that allowed for the DNA projects to be a success. Unbeknownst to Franklin, Wilkens had shown her picture to Crick and Watson who were also working on the project in 1953. It was this act of betrayal that led them to publish their findings before she had even known that Wilkins had shown them. With the picture they were able to assemble the double helix. By the time that the work was published, Rosalind had decided to join J D Bernal’s crystallography lab at Birkbeck College which was also in London.(Ferry, 2004)
While at Birkbeck she was able to work on several different viruses. Two for sure that she worked on was the Tobacco Mosaic Virus and the Polio Virus. Her main research was on how the pathogens infected the host. In 1956 she had been invited to the United Stated to The Gordon Conference and visit several Virus research labs. At this time she was at the apex of her professional career. She gave many lectures and was respected by her colleagues. When she returned to England in the summer of 1956 she was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. Through chemotherapy and radiation, she was able to have a few remissions of the cancer. She worked at Brickbeck until her health no longer would allow her to. In April of 1958 cancer claimed her, she was 37 years old. (Library,2008)
“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. The Nobel committee does not give posthumous prizes” (Foundation, 2011).