Had she lived, Rosalind Franklin would have been 93 today. Born in 1920, she died at only 37 of ovarian cancer. And, as we all know, she was an unsung—but now recognized—hero of modern genetics, for her work on X-ray crystallography was pivotal in elucidating the structure of DNA.
She’s recognized today with the ultimate accolade of social media: a Google doodle.
As CNET describes, Franklin is pictured gazing at the famous “photo 51,” whose “x” pattern was a crucial clue in showing that DNA was a double helix.
As vividly described in The Double Helix, on 30 January 1953, Watson travelled to King’s carrying a preprint of Linus Pauling’s incorrect proposal for DNA structure. Since Wilkins was not in his office, Watson went to Franklin’s lab with his urgent message that they should all collaborate before Pauling discovered his error. The unimpressed Franklin became angry when Watson suggested she did not know how to interpret her own data. Watson hastily retreated, backing into Wilkins who had been attracted by the commotion. Wilkins commiserated with his harried friend and then changed the course of DNA history with the following disclosure. Without Franklin’s permission or knowledge, Wilkins showed Watson Franklin’s famous photograph 51. Watson, in turn, showed Wilkins a prepublication manuscript by Pauling and Corey. Franklin and Gosling’s photo 51 gave the Cambridge pair critical insights into the DNA structure, whereas Pauling and Corey’s paper described a molecule remarkably like their first incorrect model.