Rosalind Franklin: The Franklin Project

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) was a British born physical chemist who captured ‘Photo 51’, an X-ray diffraction proving that DNA formed a double helix structure. Franklin, who died before the world recognized her contribution to the 1962 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, was a sharp and clever scientist who strode for perfection both in and out of the lab.

In the early 1950’s, the composition of DNA was known but it was not known how it was arranged. While working at King’s College, Franklin often interacted with ’62 prize laureates Maurice Wilkins, Francis Crick, and James Watson. She did not know that her work was shared without her permission, namely ‘Photograph 51’, a depiction of DNA’s double helix on photo-sensitive paper.

This would stay under wraps until after 1968, when Watson would publish his infamous The Double Helix– a personal recount of his time working with Crick during “the race for the double helix”. It was well-liked by the public for its one-on-one account of the scientific “discovery”. Watson, however, was knocked for his apparent lack of consideration of intellectual property, and his sexist portrayal of Franklin. Having died 10 years earlier, Franklin did not have a chance to refute Watson’s inaccurate portrayal of characters and events.

Rosalind Franklin is a figure that has only come to international attention as more is learned about her. In 2002, author Brenda Maddox wrote Rosalind Franklin: the Dark Lady of DNA, an all-encompassing biography on Franklin from before her first breaths to her last. In those pages Rosalind comes to life, from her school days, to letters, to scribbles in her notebooks. Perhaps the well-rounded depiction of Franklin was the best balm to soothe the sexist tones that were established in The Double Helix 34 years before.

In 2012, Franklin’s sister Jenifer Glynn published My Sister, Rosalind Franklin through Oxford Univ. Press Inc. This provides another viewpoint on Franklin’s character from a family member. Franklin was noted for her devotion to family, and stuck out as the only scientist. Again, it shows her as a 360° character with flaws, interests, and humor.

The Franklin Project is to be an online reference point for Franklin’s life and impact. It’s heavily drawn from sources such as Maddox and Glynn, and has been attributed as such.

Franklin is one of many womxn overshadowed in STEM areas – with her ideas and personality often diminished to archetypes. This project’s purpose is to collect and store all the information known about Franklin.

Franklin’s life is separated into time periods in efforts to make content as compact and digestible as possible.


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