Women’s History Month: Rosalind Franklin, DNA

One of my favorite pastimes is tracing the history of my ancestors.  In recent years I did the DNA test kit through the ancestry website and from there I learned even more things about my family’s lines.  I decided that it would be neat to find out if there were any females who helped pave the way for the genealogists of today.

Rosalind Franklin was a Chemist from London, England.

A brief synopsis of her life, according to Biography.com: “She learned crystallography and X-ray diffraction, techniques that she applied to DNA fibers. One of her photographs provided key insights into DNA structure. Other scientists used it as evidence to support their DNA model and took credit for the discovery.

She was exceptionally intelligent and from the young age of 15 knew that she wanted to be a scientist.  Also according to Biography: she worked as an assistant research officer at the British Coal Utilisation Research Association, where she studied the porosity of coal—work that was the basis of her 1945 Ph.D. thesis “The physical chemistry of solid organic colloids with special reference to coal.”

My great-great-grandfather, James P Logan, was a trapper boy for the coal mines at the age of 10 in the area of Durham, England. His job, even as a child laborer, was very important as he made sure there was a fresh air flow into the mines.  Although I would love to think that there was a crossing of timelines, his work in England’s coal happened a number of years prior to Ms. Franklin’s thesis as he was 10 years old in 1875.

In the mid 1940s she would work with Jacques Mering in Paris and he would teach her about X-ray defraction.  This knowledge would prove important with her later research which lead to the discovery of DNA. “Franklin pioneered the use of X-rays to create images of crystalized solids in analyzing complex, unorganized matter, not just single crystals.

She would be robbed of credit for her work when Maurice Wilkins shared one of her photos, without her permission, to James Watson.  Watson, and his partner Francis Crik, rode upon the back of Franklin’s work, and would publish a replica of DNA in 1953 and then went on to win a Nobel Prize in 1962.  She left King’s College in 1953.  The male scientists tried to stimy her and forced her to agree to not pursue the study of DNA.  She one-uped them by studying RNA, publishing 17 papers on viruses and her team laying the groundwork for the study of structural virology.

On April 16, 1958, she died from Ovarian Cancer.  She was 37.


If you would like to learn more about this pioneer of DNA, below are a few links:

Rosalind Franklin/Ballistic Fingerprinting

Rosalind Franklin, Famous Scientist

Rosalind Franklin, Britannica

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