Peter Marklund

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Thu July 04, 2002

Rosalind Franklin: The Overlooked Lady of DNA

Financial Times wrote last weekend about the chemist Rosalind Franklin whose "X-ray photographs were crucial to the discovery of DNA" but who supposedly never quite received the appreciation she deserved from her male colleagues and the Nobel committe. The article is fascinating as the story of Franklin has a touch of mystery to it. She was not only a genius, but also an attractive and opinionated woman who was dismissed by Nobel Prize winner James Watson as the woman who "had to go or be put in her place".

The most interesting part of the article was this analysis of the exciting world of science (note, Brenda Maddox wrote a Biography on Franklin):

While Franklin's personality eludes Maddox, she has grasped the nature of her work: the fact that science is also business, politics and sport; the scientist's alertness to patterning; the importance of technology; the anxiety about funding (Franklin was dismayed to be sponsored by a manufacturer of cement and asbestos); the bullying, lionised professors; and the enforced collaboration. In Franklin's case, this meant working with Maurice Wilkins, whom she despised - "He's so middle class, Vittorio!"

This quote reminds me that genious scientists are human beings after all and that the scientific world is no cleaner or fairer or more rational than any other field of human endeavor.

It seems Hollywood has caught on to the idea of stories (real or fictional) about successful scientist with intriguing personal lifes, examples include A Beautiful Mind and Good Will Hunting. There are a number of Biographies about Franklin but sadly I won't find the time to read them. So here's a money-making tip to Hollywood - throw together a movie on Rosalind Franklins life and I'll be all over it :-)