The discovery of the double helix by Rosalind Franklin
Born in London on July 25, 1920, chemist Rosalind Elsie Franklin was a woman of many talents, the most important of which was her talent for scientific discovery. From an early age, Franklin was encouraged by her parents to pursue her interest in science, to speak out on issues she considered important, and to persevere despite the opinions of her peers (Famous scientists). This advice served her well in her adult life as she achieved many feats as a Jewish woman in science. In 1938, after graduating from St. Paul’s School for Girls – a school that prepared young women to be ready for careers rather than marriage, Franklin left to study physical chemistry at Newnham College, a women’s college. from the University of Cambridge (NIH). Much of her work as an undergraduate student was influenced by World War II. Many of his teachers and mentors were forced to do scientific work for the war. Many French war refugees accepted positions at the university, including Adrienne Weil, who eventually became Rosalind’s friend and mentor during these troubling times (NIH).
Upon completing his undergraduate studies, Franklin had to decide whether to work for the war effort or pursue a doctorate. in his specialty. She chose to pursue higher education in chemistry. By the end of his higher education, Franklin had earned a doctorate. and published five research papers, while living on an extremely low salary (Glynn 7). During her search for new work, Franklin became involved in the research carried out within the laboratory of Jacque Mering at the Central Laboratory of the Chemical Services of the State, located in Paris. There she learned to analyze carbons using X-ray crystallography, a process also known as X-ray diffraction. In addition to publishing twenty-one papers on the structures of carbon and ten -nine papers on viruses, Franklin is best known for her discovery of the double helix that makes up DNA and the five publications she authored with her student, RG Gosling, on the structure of DNA. (NIH). Despite being a woman in a man’s world, Franklin persevered and was able to make massive historic breakthroughs with her work (Glynn 13).
Advances in X-ray crystallography that began with the discovery and use of X-ray diffraction by German physicist Max Von Laue in 1912 continued throughout Franklin’s college education and early career. , and she has mastered crystallography not just as a concept, but as a process. his experience in operating the machines and interpreting the images produced would prove invaluable in his own years of research in the future. While in Jacque Muring’s laboratory in Paris, she used crystallography to study the atomic structure of coal. Franklin’s coal research discoveries have enabled people around the world to produce and use coal more efficiently (famous scientists). Following her important anthrax discoveries, she was invited to participate in a fellowship with Maurice Wilkins and John Randall, two researchers who were studying DNA proteins at King’s College London (uberoi). Wilkins obtained a clean sample of DNA, which was perfect for the study because it was free of variables that could make the image blurry or confusing (Famous scientists). This was the sample that Franklin studied for the next three years.
It is important to note that a graduate student named Raymond Gosling had used a different DNA sample about a year earlier and had already discovered that it had a helical structure. Unlike Franklins however, his specimen was not isolated and the resulting images were too blurry to be able to definitively tell its shape (Famous scientists). It was into this uncertainty about the structure that Rosalind Franklin stepped in – after skillfully taking pictures of DNA, using the techniques she perfected in Muring’s lab, and studying the images, she made several crucial discoveries about DNA. She confirmed that it had a helical structure and was able to get a clear photo to prove it. She also found that there is a significant difference in DNA structure when the sample is exposed to moisture compared to when it is dried (Famous scientists; Gibbons). Franklin was particularly curious as to why this was so, so she paused her research on the structure of DNA and began to understand why there was a difference when DNA was in different environments. She also took this time to double-check her own findings to make sure they were perfect. During this process, Wilkins sent his images to two scientists, James Watson and Francis Crick, without his knowledge or permission (Gibbons). The two had been trying to create DNA templates for a while but had no reference for it. Now, with the images, they jumped at the chance and started to discover many things about the structure of DNA that we know today (Famous scientists). After building their model, they published an article about it without giving credit to Franklin for his very crucial contributions to their findings (Famous scientistsGibbons).
Despite this theft of her intellectual property and denial of acknowledgment of her contributions, Rosalind Franklin’s discovery of the structure of DNA remains of vital relevance to this day; not only is his signature double helix model sketched by every sophomore in America, but his work has proven to be the fundamental foundation of virtually all modern genetic, microbiological, and biochemical research. It is by deepening its research that modern scientists working in this field have been able to accomplish what they have. Recently, scientists discovered a new DNA structure in human cells. Described as a “twisted knot”, this structural variant occurs naturally in the human genome and had previously only been observed in vitro (Dockrill). In the fall of 2018, however, scientists were also able to identify the structure of living cells and have since researched which complex biological systems would require a unique structure to encode. A scientist involved was quoted as saying: “When most of us think of DNA, we think of the double helix… This new research reminds us that totally different DNA structures exist – and may well be important for our cells.” This clearly shows that Franklin’s work in discovering the structure of DNA is invaluable and serves as the foundation for all other DNA work.
A review of Rosalind Franklin’s professional accomplishments makes it clear that she was a master chemist, invaluable even in her day for the work she did with coal during World War II. Thanks to her work on DNA, she can be considered to have changed the life sciences forever. A glimpse into the more personal aspects of Franklin’s life reveals that she had a zest for life, a thirst for knowledge, and a commitment to doing good for all of humanity that goes beyond her 37 years of living. This is best illustrated by a quote from Franklin in which she proclaims that “science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated. Science, to me, gives a partial explanation of life. As far as it goes, it’s based on facts, experience and experimentation.
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