Rosalind Franklin, a British chemist, is best known for her work in the discovery of the structure of DNA and establishing the use of X-ray diffraction. She was born in London, England in the year 1920, and she grew up and studied there for most of her life. Franklin earned a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Cambridge University. There she learned crystallography, X-ray diffraction– using x-rays to create images of crystalized solids, and techniques that she would later apply to her discovery of the structure of DNA. In January 1951, Franklin went to King’s College to work as a research associate. There she was able to use her expertise and X-ray diffraction techniques to study the DNA structure. With a student named Raymond Gosling, Franklin refined an X-ray machine and exposed a piece of ‘hydrated’ DNA strand for one hundred hours. Once the photograph was taken, Franklin could infer that the phosphate groups on the backbone of the DNA was one the outside of the structure and that DNA took form of a helical structure. This photograph is also known as photograph 51.
Despite her brilliant discovery, her conflict with a colleague, Maurice Wilkins, caused an ethical problem. Wilkins disclosed Franklin’s photograph to competing scientists, Francis Crick and James Watson, whom later went on to identify the DNA structure and win the Nobel Prize.
Franklin died of ovarian cancer at the age of 38 on April 16, 1958.