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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Happy Birthday, Rosalind Franklin!

Rosalind Franklin, July 25, 1920-April 16, 1958

Here's another tribute to a woman of science mentioned in my second book, Rosalind Franklin, the radio crystallographer without whose work we might have been talking about the triple helix of DNA.

Some years ago, I was researching my second book, Potions To Pulsars:Women doing science, written for Allen And Unwin's True Stories series. It wasn't easy to find books about women scientists in those days, and the Internet was in its early days, no Google or Wikipedia to help. The books were there if you knew how to look for them, though, and I was a librarian, so I did. I found a wonderful book called Hypatia's Heritage and used it as a base to look up some of the women in there, and their biographies led to others... One of these days, I will do a post about my adventures researching this book.

This is a woman of whose existence I didn't know until I started looking for women in science. It's not surprising. She isn't mentioned much in the general history of science. When we hear about the discovery of DNA it's the men who are mentioned, Watson, Crick and Wilkins. They survived her(she died of cancer at only 37) and got the Nobel Prize for it and she was relegated to a footnote in history. Even recently, an Austalian newspaper had an article about the discovery of DNA that didn't so much as mention her.

The research was happening at the same time - a cousin of hers who wrote her bio said that as an American, Watson would have been used to the US system, in which there was plenty of money for research, so you could compete with other labs, while in England, with far less money, you didn't waste it on doing the same stuff as someone else. In this case, they were getting it wrong and her notes were shared with Watson and Crick by her colleague Maurice Wilkins, enabling them to correct their mistakes and rush into print. She, on the other hand, was too careful, wanting to be sure of getting it right, so she lost out.

I have heard that when they got their Nobel Prize, only Wilkins mentioned her.

But today is her birthday, a reason to celebrate. If she was alive today, she would be 93. Happy birthday, Rosalind Franklin!

Rosalind Franklin. Creative Commons image


Sarah Allen said...

Another fabulous educational post :) Good stuff!

Sarah Allen
(From Sarah, with Joy)

Sue Bursztynski said...

Thanks, Sarah, but it's mainly me being cranky! I get so sick of reading about the wonderful discovery of DNA by those three men, without mentioning that at one stage they had a TRIPLE helix or that they would have taken a lot longer to work it out if they hadn't pinched someone else's work - and then, in one case, said of her that she should wear make up and do something with her hair! No thank you or apologies and it's their names we hear, not hers. Grr!