Rosalind Franklin, in full Rosalind Elsie Franklin (born July 25, 1920, London, Eng.—died April 16, 1958, London), British scientist who contributed to the discovery of the molecular structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), a constituent of chromosomes that serves to encode genetic information.
Franklin attended St. Paul’s Girls’ School before studying physical chemistry at Newnham College, Cambridge. After graduating in 1941, she received a fellowship to conduct research in physical chemistry at Cambridge. But the advance of World War II changed her course of action: not only did she serve as a London air raid warden, but in 1942 she gave up her fellowship in order to work for the British Coal Utilisation Research Association, where she investigated the physical chemistry of carbon and coal for the war effort. Nevertheless, she was able to use this research for her doctoral thesis, and in 1945 she received a doctorate from Cambridge. From 1947 to 1950 she worked with Jacques Méring at the State Chemical Laboratory in Paris, studying X-ray diffraction technology. That work led to her research on the structural changes caused by the formation of graphite in heated carbons—work that proved valuable for the coking industry.
In 1951 Franklin joined the Biophysical Laboratory at King’s College, London, as a research fellow. There she applied X-ray diffraction methods to the study of DNA. When she began her research at King’s College, very little was known about the chemical makeup or structure of DNA. However, she soon discovered the density of DNA and, more importantly, established that the molecule existed in a helical conformation. Her work to make clearer X-ray patterns of DNA molecules laid the foundation for James Watson and Francis Crick to suggest in 1953 that the structure of DNA is a double-helix polymer, a spiral consisting of two DNA strands wound around each other.
From 1953 to 1958 Franklin worked in the Crystallography Laboratory at Birkbeck College, London. While there she completed her work on coals and on DNA and began a project on the molecular structure of the tobacco mosaic virus. She collaborated on studies showing that the ribonucleic acid (RNA) in that virus was embedded in its protein rather than in its central cavity and that this RNA was a single-strand helix, rather than the double helix found in the DNA of bacterial viruses and higher organisms. Franklin’s involvement in cutting-edge DNA research was halted by her untimely death from cancer in 1958.
Rosalind Elsie Franklin (25 July 1920 – 16 April 1958) was a British biophysicist and X-ray crystallographer who made critical contributions to the understanding of the fine molecular structures of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal and graphite. The DNA work achieved the most fame because DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) plays essential roles in cell metabolism and genetics, and the discovery of its structure helped scientists understand how genetic information is passed from parents to children.
Franklin is best known for her work on the X-ray diffraction images of DNA which led to discovery of DNA double helix. Her data, according to Francis Crick, was "the data we actually used" to formulate Crick and Watson's 1953 hypothesis regarding the structure of DNA. Franklin's X-ray diffraction images confirming the helical structure of DNA were shown to Watson without her approval or knowledge. Though this image and her accurate interpretation of the data provided valuable insight into the DNA structure, Franklin's scientific contributions to the discovery of the double helix are often overlooked. Unpublished drafts of her papers (written just as she was arranging to leaveKing's College London) show that she had independently determined the overall B-form of the DNA helix and the location of the phosphate groups on the outside of the structure. However, her work was published third, in the series of three DNA Nature articles, led by the paper of Watson and Crick which only hinted at her contribution to their hypothesis.
After finishing her portion of the DNA work, Franklin led pioneering work on the tobacco mosaic and polio viruses. She died in 1958 at the age of 37 from complications arising from ovarian cancer.
Franklin was born in Notting Hill, London, into an affluent and influential British Jewish family. Her father was Ellis Arthur Franklin (1894–1964), a London merchant banker and her mother was Muriel Frances Waley (1894–1976); she was the elder daughter and second of the family of five children. Her father's uncle was Herbert Samuel (later Viscount Samuel) who was Home Secretary in 1916 and the first practising Jew to serve in the British Cabinet.He was also the first High Commissioner (effectively governor) for the British Mandate of Palestine. Her aunt Helen Carolin Franklin was married to Norman de Mattos Bentwich, who was Attorney General in the British Mandate of Palestine. She was active in trade union organisation and women's suffrage, and was later a member of the London County Council. From early childhood she showed exceptional intellectual abilities.
Franklin was educated at St Paul's Girls' School and North London Collegiate School where she excelled in science, Latin and sports. Her family was actively involved with a Working Men's College, where Ellis Franklin, her father, taught electricity, magnetism and the history of the Great War in the evenings and later became vice principal. Later Franklin's family helped settle Jewish refugees from Europe who had escaped the Nazis.