Rosalind Franklin (1920–1958) is most famous for her work in X-ray crystallography, taking images of DNA molecules at King’s College London. ‘Photograph 51’, an image she took in May 1952, demonstrated the helical structure of DNA and enabled James Watson and Francis Crick to build the first model of the molecule.
Rosalind was a Cambridge-educated scientist who worked as a research Fellow at King’s from 1951–53. Photograph 51 was one of a number of images taken by Rosalind and her research student, Raymond Gosling. The photograph was shown to James Watson by Rosalind’s colleague Maurice Wilkins, without her agreement or knowledge.
Franklin left King’s in 1953 and set up a research team at Birkbeck College, a constituent college of the University of London, investigating the structure of viruses. The papers she and her team published before her untimely death from ovarian cancer in 1958, laid the foundations for the field of structural virology.
James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. Rosalind could not be awarded the Nobel as the committee does not consider posthumous nominations.
Did you know? Amongst Rosalind’s many posthumous honours was a 2013 Google doodle depicting her alongside a diagram of the DNA double helix and an illustration of Photograph 51.