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Why Dr Rosalind Franklin should be the new face of the £50 note

The Bank of England recently announced plans for a new £50 note, and have called for the public to nominate figures who have made significant contributions to science. 

We're beyond excited that King's alumna Dr Rosalind Franklin is a shortlist front-runner!

With 2018 marking 60 years since the death of Dr Franklin, we think there’s no better time to acknowledge the pioneering work of this female scientist. We’re encouraging our community and the public to nominate Franklin as someone who has shaped UK society through her bold work and monumental contribution to science.

Let’s see how Franklin meets the criteria set out by the Bank of England. 

It must be someone who has significantly contributed to the field of pure or applied science

As a research scientist at Kings in 1952, Franklin captured the famous ‘Photo 51’ that showed, for the first time, that DNA molecules had a clear X-shaped pattern.

‘Photo 51’ is one of the world’s most important photographs, as it provides confirmation of the helical structure of DNA. It revealed the secret structure of the DNA molecule which governs heredity. Franklin’s image served as the foundation upon which James Watson and Francis Crick of the University of Cambridge built the first correct model of the DNA molecule.

Photo 51 hi res

In 1962, James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins of King’s were awarded the Nobel Prize for their work on DNA. Franklin’s crucial contributions to the DNA discovery and to science more broadly have been consistently underplayed in favour of those of her male colleagues, and the Nobel Prize is never awarded posthumously.

The person must have shaped thought, innovation, leadership or values in the UK

Franklin’s work provided the basis for modern understanding of our genes, and has allowed generations of scientists to delve deeper in to human heredity and develop treatments for genetic diseases. 

After leaving King’s in 1953 to work at Birkbeck College, Franklin worked on the structure of the tobacco mosaic virus and of RNA (ribonucleic acid, a nucleic acid present in all living cells). Between 1953 and her death in 1958, she published 17 papers on viruses, and her group laid the foundations for structural virology.

The individual cannot be alive

Her Majesty the Queen is the only exception of someone featured on a bank note who is not deceased.

Sadly, Franklin’s life and brilliant career were cut short, and the impact of her work not fully realised during her lifetime. In 1956, Franklin discovered she had ovarian cancer. She continued working but she passed away in 1958 at the age of 37.

Rosalind Franklin in cafe

Lastly, the figure must inspire people, not divide them 

Franklin is described as a rigorous, careful and intelligent experimentalist. She insisted on robust and carefully collected data, and was a passionate scientist who believed that "science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated."

In an article written for The Lancet, Franklin’s sister Jenifer Glyn spoke about her sister’s complex legacy and that “an almost unrecognisable Rosalind has been put on an unrealistic pedestal.

"She is no longer a warning [to girls who might think of a career in science], but has become “the forgotten heroine””. – Jenifer Glyn

Glyn poses that Franklin would have been uncomfortable and embarrassed by portrayals that cast her as a victim of male dominance or an active feminist, writing that Franklin “would have thought of herself simply as a scientist whose achievements should have been judged on their own terms.” 

If Franklin were to be featured on the £50 note, it would send a strong message to female scientists that their work and achievements are visible and valued. Her inclusion would also inspire young people with an interest in STEM to pursue their passion and consider turning it into a career.   

As one of the UK’s and the world’s paramount scientists of the 20th century, it’s time that Franklin’s work and achievements are more widely celebrated and acknowledged. 

Vote for Rosalind on the Bank of England website: https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/banknotes/50-pound-note-nominations

Rosalind-Franklin-dna

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be spotlighting on outstanding scientists that have worked and studied at King's. We'd love to hear your suggestions on who meets the criteria from our alumni community, and hope you'll consider nominating them!