1941: Autumn – 1945

“The true density of a series of coals measured with helium gas and apparent densities were measured with methanol, water, n-hexane and benzene liquids. From results obtained, the following results were drawn… 

…The configuration of the fine pores must be intimately related to the way in which the coal micelles are bound together, and the variation of the pore structure with the rank of the coal must be associated with the changes in micellar structure which occur during coalification.”  

                                                           Rosalind Franklin, A Study of Fine Carbonaceous Solids by Measurements of True and Apparent Densities, 1948


Franklin would go on to join the R.G. Norrish lab in the fall of 1941. Norrish, who had signed on as a research fellow at Cambridge in 1925 and had risen to head the department of physical chemistry, was having a difficult war². His lab had decreased in both size and significance, and he was known to drink heavily. He would often vent his anger on junior lab members, of which Rosalind was one.


Ronald George Wreyford Norrish ( November 9, 1897-June 7, 1978) Source: (x)

Note: Nonetheless, the war would prove to be beneficial for Norrish. Wartime work would in turn support Norrish’s work on flash photolysis which would earn him a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1967³.

This led to a tense lab setting which was not helped by Franklin’s quick tongue. She was assigned to a seemingly unnecessary topic- the polymerization of formic acid and acetaldehyde. Differences in experimental versus expected results would end with what Franklin would describe as a “first-class row”².

Franklin did get assigned another project, one that was, ” … not thrilling, but it MUST be better than the last.”².

It was during this time that 12 year old Jenifer visited Rosalind at Cambridge¹.

Adrienne Weill

Adrienne Weill later in life with colleague John Philip Nielsen at New York University.

During this time Franklin would get to know French scientist and refugee Adrienne Weill. Weill had fled France in wake of Hitler’s regime with her daughter Marianne and set up a french Hostel on at 12 Mill Lane². Franklin would soon become a regular at the hostel. She would move there later in the summer of 1942, during which she would celebrate her 22nd birthday.

In the fall of 1942 Franklin would need to decide if she wanted to stay in Cambridge one more year. She was not keen to, and an opportunity popped up at a government lab position in Kingston-upon-Thames, a suburb in southwestern London².  Though not thrilled about living so far from the bustling city, Franklin did accept the position.

Franklin slipped into a pleasant routine in the house on Putney Common in Kingston-upon-Thames. She lived there with her cousin Irene and a friend. There she and Irene served as air wardens for the war effort.


BCURA document: (x)

Franklins’ new job as Assistant Research Officer at the British Coal Utilization Research Association would prove to be worth the move. BCURA focused on studying coal and charcoal – having a direct impact on the war effort as charcoal was used in gas masks at the time and saved thousands of lives³. Franklin and other graduate associates studied this scientific pathway along with others using coal from all around the UK.

Rosalind Graph 1

A figure from Franklins’ paper on coals Part II: Carbonized Coals plotting temperature in Celsius versus density of Anthracite Coal.


Franklin addressed specifically why some types of coal resisted penetration of gas or water more than others. She used helium to observe how much could pass through the coal, and observed how porosity changed in different temperatures, sometimes reaching temps as high as 1650ºCelsius¹. Franklin’s work here would establish her name in the field, and her papers are still available to read today.

For the rest of the war, Franklin would continue work at BCURA. She would take a few holidays, though limited to Great Britain. She would travel to North Wales on a few occasions, both times accompanied by old friends from her time at St. Paul’s Girl School.


  1. Glynn, J. My sister Rosalind Franklin. 1st ed., Oxford University Press Inc., New York. 2012
  2. Maddox, B. Rosalind Franklin the dark lady of DNA. 1st ed., HarperCollins, New York. 2002.
  3.  Ronald George Wreyford Norrish (1897-1978) Emmanuel College: History and Archives.  http://www.emma.cam.ac.uk/about/history/famous//index.cfm?id=12
  4. Adrienne Weill and John Philip Nielsen, Acc. 90-105 – Science Service, Records, 1920s-1970s, Smithsonian Institution Archives.  https://siarchives.si.edu/collections/siris_arc_306570
  5. Franklin, R. A Study of Fine Carbonaceous Solids by Measurements of True and Apparent Densities, Part I: Coals. Transactions of the Faraday Society 45, (1949): 274-286. Article. 13 Images. https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/retrieve/Narrative/KR/p-nid/186/p-docs/true
  6. Franklin, R. A Study of Fine Carbonaceous Solids by Measurements of True and Apparent Densities, Part II: Carbonized Coals. Transactions of the Faraday Society 45, (1949): 668-682. Article. 15 Images. https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/access/KRBBFT.pdf