Rosalind Franklin: Biography and Contributions of British Chemistry

Rosalind Franklin was a British chemist who trained and mastered the technique of X-ray crystallography. Structure of DNA and RNA.

It is about the DNA molecule that he made one of his greatest discoveries, materialized by “photograph number 51”, which will be used for the subsequent formulation of Francis Crick’s model of double helix structure. and John Watson.

Unfortunately, due to his untimely death at the age of 37 in 1958, he was unable to receive the recognition he deserved for the discovery of this structure, and he was not awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine. and physiology, which Crick and Watson did. receive 1962.

In this Rosalind Franklin biography we will come back to the most important events in the life of this researcher and her greatest contributions to the world of science in general and biochemistry in particular.

    Brief biography of Rosalind Franklin

    Rosalind Elsie Franklin was born in London, UK on July 25, 1920. She was the second of five children from a wealthy Jewish family; his father, Ellis Arthur Franklin, was a banker and teacher.

    Given the family’s good financial situation, Franklin was able to attend prestigious private schools, such as Norland Place Private School in London when he was six, at Lindores School for Young Ladies in Sussex at the age of nine. years old and at St. Paul’s School for Girls at the age of eleven.

    From an early age she was a brilliant and diligent student, always achieving excellent marks in the various subjects. Likewise, he learned German and French.

    At the age of 18 was accepted to Newnham College, Cambridge, where he chose to study in the natural sciences, specifically in chemistry.. At first, the father did not see the choice of his daughter’s studies and decided not to pay for them, but soon after he came to his senses.

    During her stay in Cambridge, she met Arienne Weill, a Frenchwoman who had the honor of having Marie Curie as a teacher, who would greatly influence Rosalind’s life.

    Consolidation of his professional career

    After graduating in 1941 received a scholarship for his doctorate at the physics and chemistry laboratory of the University of Cambridge with Ronald George Wreyford Norrish as tutor, who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1967. But Franklin did not feel comfortable with this professor, so he decided in 1942 to present his research services to the British Association for Chemistry. .

    In this way he started his work with coal, thus also helping the British side during WWII.

    During his work with coal, he studied various characteristics, such as porosity, combustion capacity, and the possibility of forming war devices according to their potential. This research enabled him to carry out his doctoral thesis entitled “The physicochemistry of solid organic colloids with a particular reference to carbon” and thus to support his thesis in 1946.

      His beginnings with X-ray crystallography

      After completing his doctorate, he moved to Paris to look for work. It was his friend Arienne Weill who introduced him to Marchel Mathiu, director of the National Center for Scientific Research, which brings together most of the research laboratories associated with the government. French. He was thus able to contact Jacques Mering, with whom he began to work in 1947 at the Central Laboratory of State Chemical Services in Paris.

      It was during his research with Mering that he began to train and learn the technique of X-ray crystallography.. His mentor was already using this technique to observe the diffraction that occurs when it is applied to amorphous substances, which have a molecular shape, such as gases and liquids.

      Thus, Rosalind applied this new tool to the study of coal, thus being able to write several articles and serve as a basis for knowledge of the physics and chemistry of coal.

        DNA structure research

        After his stay in France in 1950, he received a scholarship to work for three years at King’s College London. When he joined the Biophysics Unit of the Medical Research Council in 1951, which was under the leadership of John Randall, began studying the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) molecule, as it was the only one in the unit with a background in crystallography..

        At that time, Maurice Wilkins and Raymond Gosling had succeeded in obtaining an image of the DNA molecule by diffraction. In this way, with the incorporation of Franklin, it was possible to improve the machine used to obtain the images, thus obtaining more sharpness. These advances too allowed the discovery of two forms of the DNA molecule depending on whether it was in a wet or dry environment, respectively A and B..

        In 1951, he gave a conference in which he presented the results obtained from the DNA molecule; among the participants were Jamnes Watson and Francis Crick, researchers at the Cavendish Laboratory and also interested in studying the structure of the molecule.

        Given Wilkins’ relationship with the Cavendish pair of researchers, it was common for him to show them numerous images he and Franklin took of the molecule. It was like that in 1953 they saw, without Rosalind’s knowledge, photograph number 51, which would be decisive in supporting the modeling of the structure of the DNA double helix..

        In this way, he was like Watson and Crick, having seen the famous photograph and several of the cryptographic calculations made by Franklin, completed and presented their model of the structure of the double helix of the DNA molecule, published in the journal Nature on April 25, 1953, with only a brief mention of the work Franklin did. Likewise, the modified results obtained by Wilkins and Franklin in their research using X-ray diffraction in DNA were also published in the same issue of this journal, which gave the impression of supporting the presented model of the Double helix.

        Days before the innovative model was released, Franklin asked Watson to teach them. Rosalind was not very impressed, as she believed that before building and training a theoretical model, there was a need to substantiate more experimental results.

          Move on to other research areas

          Given his disagreements with Wilkins, in 1954, he decided to move to Birkbeck College, where he would work with Irish scientist John Bernal. However, he did not completely abandon the study of DNA, also integrating the research of another nucleic acid in his projects: ribonucleic acid (RNA). He was also interested in the structure of the tobacco mosaic virus (TMV), the work of which he published in 1955 in the journal Nature.

          Expo 58, a major international event, will be held in Brussels in 1958. The organizers of the event offered Franklin to make a 5-foot scale model of the TMV virus, which the chemist agreed to, exhibiting the TMV model at the exhibition on April 17, 1958, just after Franklin’s death.

            The last years and death

            It was in 1956 that her health problems started, so she went to the doctor and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After undergoing emergency surgery, he recovered with the help of his family and friends.

            Despite his fragile health, he never stopped looking for, by publishing several articles throughout this year and the next.

            At the end of 1957, his illness worsening again, he therefore decided to draw up his will, where he left his brothers designated as responsible for carrying out his last will and distributed his goods to various friends and to works of charity.

            He finally had a last relapse in March 1958, and died on April 16 of the same year, at the age of only 37, in Chelsea, London, of bronchopneumonia, ovarian cancer and secondary carcinoma.

            Given his untimely death he could never get recognition that he owed for his work on the structure of the DNA molecule, although Crick and Watson, who presented their model using Franklin’s results, they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology in 1962.

            Other interesting facts about your life

            As for her private life, from an early age she militated in unions and in claiming the right to vote for women. Although she was considered Jewish and educated in her culture and traditions, for example by studying the Hebrew language, she considered herself an agnostic.

            He also enjoyed and made many trips and excursions; We will note her visits to the United States, where she was much appreciated by her friends and colleagues, and to France, where she was in love.

            Bibliographical references

            • Fresquet, J. (2017) Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958). historiadelamedicina.org
            • Huguet, G. (2021) Rosalind Franklin and the structure of DNA. National Geographic.
            • Alvarez, JP. (2015) Rosalind Franklin and the Discovery of the Structure of DNA. Les Comtes clinic.

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