Total Pageviews

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Franklin, my dear, we DO give a damn!


                  "Franklin, my dear, we DO give a damn!"

     Rosalind Franklin's First Photograph of DNA structure



           Rosalind Franklin's extraordinary 1953 photograph of the DNA double helix was the impetus for Watson and Crick realizing the helix supports were on the outside of the structure with the phosphate "rungs" pointing inward. Until then, both Watson and Crick, Linus Pauling, and other researchers hypothesized the phosphates were on the outside. Franklin's research and extraordinary photograph 51 (shown below)

 were pivotal in understanding the double helix model. Yet, Rosalind Franklin received no credit for her pioneering work in x-ray crystallography of the DNA, or for the amazing photograph. Watson and Crick both later wrote that her photograph was "key" to their understanding of the structure of DNA. PBS has chronicled her story in a documentary entitled "Secret of Photograph 51:"


            And Brenda Maddox has also written Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA.

            My Halloween costume will be of Rosalind Franklin, complete with photo 51 emblazoned on a t-shirt, microscope, a DNA model, and a lab coat.

          I decided this was a wise choice after making DNA models with the kindergarteners on Friday. They asked me more than once "Was she a girl?" Yes, Rosalind Franklin was a girl/woman who, sadly, died at age 37 of complications from ovarian cancer. She did not receive credit for her amazing x-ray crystallography work on the DNA helix. Most (but not all) people I have shared her story with over the past week or so were completely unaware of her contributions.

           The kids and I also worked together on one giant table making a very long double helix. I (oh so subtly) mentioned that working on scientific discoveries and models together is the way to go.

          To you, Rosalind Franklin, thank you for your extraordinary x-ray crystallography, your methodical, detailed research, and for Photograph 51.  

           Frankly/Franklin, my dear, we DO give a damn!

 I would enjoy hearing your thoughts about Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958).


Word Woman (aka Scientific Steph)

P.S. My trusty canine pup is considering accompanying me as Helix, the Dog. :-)




  1. At the end of our DNA modeling I asked the kids who was the scientist who took the first photos of the DNA double helix?

    "FRANKENSTEIN!" I'm giving that one partial credit. If only Rosalind Franklin had gotten a similar deal...

  2. Franklin gets due credit in an interesting book I read last month: "Brilliant blunders : from Darwin to Einstein -- colossal mistakes by great scientists that changed our understanding of life and the universe", by Mario Livio. It's a non-technical account of how so many of the people who were responsible for changing our understanding of the world got so much (other than their key discoveries) wrong.

  3. Jan, I just put a library hold on "Brilliant blunders." It looks to be quite interesting. Thanks for the recommendation. I know I've made my share of blunders; maybe some were brilliant (in retrospect). ;-)

  4. My friends' daughter interviewed yesterday for the Physician's Assistant Program at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago, IL. Fingers crossed. . .

    1. Breaking news: she was accepted--woohoo!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Steph,

    Count me among those who were completely unaware of Rosalind Franklin’s key contributions... until now. Thanks for bringing her to our attention.

    I too have made my share, indeed more than my share, of blunders. None of them have panned out to be brilliant in retrospect… or in any respect.

    Good for your friend’s daughter. Good that there is at least one eponymous Rosalind Franklin school.


    1. Thanks, Lego! Rosalind was quite amazing. . .The cool part about Madeline is that she is almost done with PA school now so your timing nearly 2.25 years later is terrific!