It is important to continue to educate students (and potential future scientists) about men and women who have made a mark on history. Celebrate and remember women in STEM with your students. Learn more about Rosalind Franklin, a chemist who played a crucial role in the research and discovery of DNA’s double helix structure.
“In my view, all that is necessary for faith is the belief that by doing our best we shall succeed in our aims; the improvement of mankind.”
– Rosalind Franklin
Who Was Rosalind Franklin?
Rosalind Franklin was a chemist and crystallographer (a scientist who focuses on the structure and properties of crystals) who is now credited as a key contributor to the discovery of the structure of DNA.
Rosalind was born on July 25, 1920 in England. Even in her early years, Franklin was exceptionally bright and a quick learner. She spent time practicing math and playing cricket and hockey. In school, she excelled in science, Latin, and sports, while also learning to speak German and French. After graduating from high school in 1938, Rosalind attended Newnham College in Cambridge. There, she studied chemistry and was awarded second-class honours on her final exams which was accepted as a bachelor’s degree at the time. After this Franklin worked and conducted valuable research on viruses and coal which she was recognized for and awarded a Ph.D. in 1945.
In 1950, Franklin was granted a three-year fellowship to work at King’s College London where she was able to direct her attention to DNA fibers. Her expertise in x-ray diffraction allowed her to take focused images of DNA. The most famous image from her research at King’s College London, Photo 51, was used to prove the double-helix structure of DNA.
Unfortunately, Franklin passed away at age 37 from cancer and did not receive proper credit for her contributions to the scientific community and DNA research during her lifetime. Eventually she was recognized for her work. Her story serves as an example of the value and importance of passion and hard work.
5 Facts About Rosalind Franklin
Here are several fun facts about Rosalind Franklin to share with your students.
- Before studying DNA, and during WWII, Rosalind Franklin studied the holes in coal.
- Franklin enjoyed backpacking and travel, taking several trips to France and backpacking through the French Alps.
- Rosalind experienced sexism and hostility throughout her career – often due her studious and industrious personality.
- Rosalind was born in Notting Hill, London, to a wealthy Jewish family that helped settle Jewish refugees from Europe who had escaped the Nazis.
- Franklin was never officially awarded the Nobel Prize for her work on discovering the structure of DNA because she passed away before the scientists who presented the research (Wilkins, Watson, and Crick) were given the award.
Quick Group Discussion Questions
After sharing this information about Rosalind Franklin and her career and achievements, have students break into groups and answer the following questions before sharing their thoughts with the class.
- Rosalind Franklin was passionate about both science and physical activity when she was young. Her life is proof that hard work and hobbies can work together. Do you have a hobby or passion that you hope to continue growing throughout your life?
- Rosalind was often criticized for her perfectionism and work-focused personality. Do you ever feel pressured to change your personality? How can we better encourage others to be themselves and follow their passions?