Rosalind Franklin: born on 25th July in 1920

This weekend celebrates the birth of Rosalind Franklin, an English Chemist and X-ray crystallographer. X-Ray crystallography is the study of structure using X-Ray diffraction. Although not recognised in her lifetime, she is perhaps most famously known for 2 years of her working life, where she was central to the understanding of the molecular structure of DNA, and with her PhD student Ray Gosling, produced the infamous Photo 51. This photo was crucial, as (along with subsequent related work) it led to Francis Crick, James Watson, and Maurice Wilkins being awarded a Nobel Prize in 1962 for their work on the subject. Her research career spanned x-ray explorations into the porosity of coal, the basis of her PhD (1945), and later virus RNA (Polio and TMV). This was equally seminal work in which she wrote multiple single-author papers and was at the cutting edge of research. She established the first detailed structure of any virus.

Born in 1920, Franklin graduated in Natural Sciences from Newnham College, Cambridge in 1941. She died April 1958, aged 37, of bronchopneumonia, secondary carcinomatosis, and ovarian cancer. The Rosalind Franklin Excellence in Ovarian Cancer Research Prize was established in 2005 as a result and was most recently awarded to le-Ming Shih in 2020, for research exploring molecular landscapes and pathogensis of ovarian cancers, most notably their precursor lesions and developing a model categorising pathways as Type 1 or Type 2.

Last year, the 100 year anniversary of Franklin’s birth, saw her selected for the Time 100 Women of the Year, for 1953, and the UK Royal Mint released a 50-pence coin featuring a stylized version of Photo 51.

This year has seen the Rosalind Franklin laboratory, opened in the Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, on 13 July as the largest laboratory for COVID-19 testing under the Test and Trace network, supported by the University of Warwick. Also a bronze tondo of Rosalind Franklin was placed on Hampstead Manor, unveiled in March.

CY Partners currently have a role here looking into crystallisation development and polymorphism projects, a job that probably couldn’t have come into existence without the work of Rosalind Franklin paving the way.

Author Lisa Chatterjee

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