King's College London
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DNA: the King's story

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)

Rosalind FranklinRosalind FranklinRosalind Franklin was educated at Newnham College Cambridge where she studied chemistry, and developed an early interest in crystallography.

She joined the British Coal Utilization Association in 1942, working towards her PhD based on carbon and graphite microstructures, which she obtained in 1945.

Franklin moved to Paris in 1947, joining the Laboratoire Central des Services Chimiques de L’Etat where she developed considerable skills in X-ray diffraction.

Franklin was offered an ICI Fellowship at King's in 1950, which she took up in January 1951. Franklin took over recently obtained new equipment from Wilkins and was joined by the then PhD student Raymond Gosling to improve on the quality of images already secured.

Her particular contribution was an absolute commitment to the detail of the scientific process; to securing controlled conditions of experimentation from which closely comparable and reproducible data could be derived.

It was her work in relation to humidity that allowed for the differentiation between the A and B forms of DNA. Never an enthusiast of speculative modelling she readily identified flaws in Linus Pauling and Watson and Crick's early work.

It was ultimately her work also that Watson identified as being crucial to the Watson-Crick double helix. Rosalind Franklin's notebooks reflect that in February 1953 she too had begun to interpret the B pattern of DNA as a double helix.

Franklin moved to Birkbeck College London to join Bernal's team in April 1953 to commence research on viral RNA (ribonucleic acid).

This work was cut cruelly short. Perhaps on account of her repeated exposure to radiation in France and the UK, she developed ovarian cancer and died in 1958.

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