Rosalind Franklin: The Woman Who Helped Give Shape to DNA


DNA—like any good code—took quite a long time for humans to crack (and we’re still working on it). The discovery of the double helix structure of molecules in the mid-20th century is widely credited to Francis Crick and James D. Watson, but it was a breakthrough that was aided by the work of many people—perhaps most notably, a woman by the name of Rosalind Franklin.

In the TED-Ed lesson above, “Rosalind Franklin: DNA’s Unsung hero,” Cláudio L. Guerra, with the help of narrator Susan Zimmerman and animator Chris Bishop, briefly details the life and work of this often overlooked pioneer.

In short, Franklin is the person behind the X-ray image known as Photo 51—the one that helped Watson and Crick crack the structure of DNA. The pair’s groundbreaking study was published alongside Franklin’s, but they earned the lasting legacy as well as a Nobel Prize in 1962. Franklin had died of cancer before the awards were handed out, and Nobel Prizes aren’t awarded posthumously; in the years since, there’s been much debate over whether Franklin would have been included in the ceremony had she lived to see it.

There's also some lasting debate over just how much Watson and Crick owe to Franklin, and—perhaps principally—whether they stole her data. What is clear is that Franklin was an essential player in the discovery of the double helix and was right alongside her male counterparts with the analysis and findings. Her Photo 51 is what allowed the breakthrough to happen, and for that she should be remembered and celebrated. (Not to mention all the other historic work she did in her far too short life.)

[h/t The Mary Sue]

Banner image: YouTube

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