top of page

Rosalind Franklin


Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) was a British scientist who made important contributions in X-ray crystallography and the understanding of the molecular structures of various substances. Her work in the coal industry helped classify and understand the structure of coals and earned her a PhD in Chemistry.

After the War, she worked in Paris and became an expert in X-ray diffraction, using it to continue working on understanding carbon-based structures of coal and graphite. It was in the 1950's in Kings College London that she was tasked with working on the molecular structure of DNA along with her colleague Maurice Wilkins. However she and Wilkins did not get on and worked on different versions of DNA. By late 1951 Franklin had determined that the structure was helical and by early '53 that it was a double-helix. At this point she and Wilkins met Watson & Crick of Cambridge who made use of her X-rays to augment their work in building a model of DNA, which was published in Nature in 1953, Franklin and Wilkins's work being a footnote.

She continued working on X-ray crystallography and determined the structure of the polio virus but she died in April 1958 of ovarian cancer. The 1962 Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded to Crick, Watson and Wilkins. The rules prohibit posthumous nominations or splitting of awards more than three ways so Franklin was not included. Her colleague Aaron Klug continued her work and was awarded the Nobel in 1982 himself "for his development of crystallographic electron microscopy and his structural elucidation of biologically important nucleic acid-protein complexes." Had she been alive, she would have likely shared this with him.

bottom of page