BBC 4 broadcast on Rosalind Franklin

Reader Kevin called my attention to this BBC4 show on Rosalind Franklin. It won’t be available long, I think, so listen to the 43-minute program soon (click on the screenshot to go there).

Besides moderator Melvyn Bragg, the participants include Patricia Fara  (physics, University of Cambridge), Jim Naismith (structural biology, University of Oxford) and Judith Howard (physical chemistry, Durham University). The discussion covers her entire life, beginning with her childhood in a Jewish home, her Ph.D. studies at Cambridge (it’s horrifying to hear how women were treated there at the time), her work in France, the DNA race (of course), and her later work on viruses. It’s a good summary of Franklin’s life.

I find Franklin’s early death from ovarian cancer ineffably sad (she was just 38). As Matthew has speculated, she could have shared in the 1962 Nobel Prize with Wilkins, Crick, and Watson (since Prizes are awarded to at most three people in one area, the prize could have been split between biology—”medicine and physiology”‚ and chemistry). But Nobels aren’t given posthumously, and Franklin had died four years before. Here are the details of her interment from Wikipedia (note the “spinster” characterization).

Other members of her family have died of cancer, and the incidence of gynaecological cancer is known to be disproportionately high among Ashkenazi Jews. Her death certificate read: A Research Scientist, Spinster, Daughter of Ellis Arthur Franklin, a Banker.  She was interred on 17 April 1958 in the family plot at Willesden United Synagogue Cemetery at Beaconsfield Road in London Borough of Brent. The inscription on her tombstone reads:

IN MEMORY OF
ROSALIND ELSIE FRANKLIN
מ’ רחל בת ר’ יהודה
DEARLY LOVED ELDER DAUGHTER OF
ELLIS AND MURIEL FRANKLIN
25TH JULY 1920 – 16TH APRIL 1958
SCIENTIST
HER RESEARCH AND DISCOVERIES ON
VIRUSES REMAIN OF LASTING BENEFIT
TO MANKIND
ת נ צ ב ה [Hebrew initials for “her soul shall be bound in the bundle of life”]

Sadly, her contributions to the structure of DNA aren’t mentioned on the tombstone:

.

32 Comments

  1. Posted February 24, 2018 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    downloadable, so always available via dropbox and similar

    • Christopher
      Posted February 24, 2018 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      Yep, I subscribe to the In Our Time podcast and many others quite easily and most, excepting Radio 4’s News Quiz with Miles Jupp are available for download any time you want and are found on the podcast under the button labeled “feed”. If you have an Apple product, just get the podcast app, click on the search podcast button and you can get all sorts. Search by podcast name, subject, person, all quite easy .

      • Posted February 24, 2018 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        Most R4 comedy programmes are only available for a short period after transmission. They are often then sold. However, the cultural output is often available indefinitely. Another good scientific podcast is The Life Scientific with Jim Al-Khalili, who interviews individual scientists about their scientific careers.

        • Christopher
          Posted February 24, 2018 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

          The Life Scientific is fantastic! I only wish it covered scientists from other countries more often; there are plenty of English-speaking scientists that are French, German, Chinese, and so on that I’d love to know more about. I also wish we had something like it here in the states. I figure that the more people, especially teens, learn who scientists are, what inspired them, and the story of how they became scientists, the better the chances are that we can inspire the next generation, including those who, like myself, had no idea how to become a scientist or thought that you have to be especially clever or whatever. If I had any idea how to do a podcast, I’d do it…or at least help. I do have a face for radio, as they say!

      • George
        Posted February 24, 2018 at 11:51 am | Permalink

        So how many listeners of “In Our Time” with Melvyn Bragg are also readers of WEIT? It is a weekly staple for me. The entire library of back episodes is available – back to 2010 I think. The episodes before the one on Rosalind Franklin are Fungi, Frederick Douglass, Cephalopods, and Cicero. I have read and studied Moby Dick and yet I learn an enormous amount from his broadcast/podcast on it last December.

        As you can see, he covers a wide range of subjects. The podcasts have bonus material that do not fit into the broadcast.

        The BBC is a great source for podcasts. I have many regulars to listen to including History Extra. Some of their limited run podcasts are phenomenal – Shakespeare’s Restless World, A History of the World in 100 Objects, A Brief History of Mathematics (10 fifteen minute episodes).

        • Simon Hayward
          Posted February 24, 2018 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

          Seconded

          • Posted February 24, 2018 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

            I’m in that category too – plus the Great Lves podcast, also from BBC Radio 4, the Science Hour, More or Less (behind statistics), the Infinite Monkey Cage, Analysis and The Briefing Room – the BBC is brilliant at these.

            • Posted February 24, 2018 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

              The In Our Time podcast is great – hours and hours of terrific conversation.

              Inside Science is another good listen.

        • Jonathan Dore
          Posted February 25, 2018 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

          “In Our Time” podcasts are a staple of my commuting train journey. Just listened to the Gettysburg Address and John Clare this week.

  2. GBJames
    Posted February 24, 2018 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Interesting to listen to.

  3. David Duncan
    Posted February 24, 2018 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    “But Nobels aren’t given posthumously, and Franklin had died four years before.”

    Rules are made to be broken. She would be a deserving case.

  4. glen1davidson
    Posted February 24, 2018 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    As Matthew has speculated, she could have shared in the 1962 Nobel Prize with Wilkins, Crick, and Watson (since Prizes are awarded to at most three people in one area, the prize could have been split between biology—”medicine and physiology”‚ and chemistry). But Nobels aren’t given posthumously, and Franklin had died four years before.

    I don’t believe her contribution was known at that time anyway, except by a select few.

    Glen Davidson

    • Posted February 24, 2018 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      Her contribution was known in the same way that Wilkins’ was – acknowledgement in the 1953 paper, which was accompanied by two articles, one by Wilkins, the other by Franklin. – MC

      • glen1davidson
        Posted February 24, 2018 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

        True, there was some acknowledgement, but the real importance wasn’t known, at least as far as I know. The Watson and Crick mention is unspecified, and I don’t know if Franklin ever knew that they had seen her x-ray photos.

        Unknown to Franklin, Watson and Crick saw some of her unpublished data, including the beautiful “photo 51,” shown to Watson by Wilkins. This X-ray diffraction picture of a DNA molecule was Watson’s inspiration (the pattern was clearly a helix). Using Franklin’s photograph and their own data, Watson and Crick created their famous DNA model. Franklin’s contribution was not acknowledged, but after her death Crick said that her contribution had been critical.

        Scitable by Nature education

        In Franklin’s paper she just states, “Thus our general ideas are consistent with the model proposed by Crick and Watson.” Well yes, because Watson and Crick had based their model in part on her work. She didn’t know that, then, and apparently never.

        Glen Davidson

  5. Posted February 24, 2018 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Marital status (viz. spinster) used to be standard practice on British death certificates.

  6. rickflick
    Posted February 24, 2018 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Franklin’s cancer was probably due to certain genetic mutations. Genetic testing shows my genome contains the CHEK2 genetic mutation which makes me significantly more likely to experience several types of cancer. “The CHEK2 gene provides instructions for making a protein called checkpoint kinase 2 (CHK2). This protein acts as a tumor suppressor.” The good thing about knowing this is I can get monitoring for these cancers on a more frequent basis.

    • George
      Posted February 24, 2018 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      Could her cancer have been caused by exposure to the x-rays she worked with? I don’t think they took many precautions in the early research with radioactive material. Pierre Curie died at age 46 after he was run over by a horse drawn cart which may have been merciful. Marie Curie died at 66 of aplastic anemia probably caused by long term exposure to radioactivity. The Curie’s papers are still kept in lead lined boxes. Enrico Fermi died at age 53 of stomach cancer. Two of his assistants at the nuclear pile also died young of cancer.

      • nicky
        Posted February 24, 2018 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

        Fermi never died, his ‘paradox’* lives on and on.
        * [where is everybody? referring to ‘aliens’]

  7. nicky
    Posted February 24, 2018 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Her untimely death from ovarian cancer at 38, keeps reminding me of the untimely death of my young wife at age 27 from breast cancer.
    Life really is a bitch to some. It is so unfair. (I’m crying again now, who said men don’t cry?)

    • Posted February 24, 2018 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      Oh dear, I’m so sorry to hear that. 27 is ridiculously young to die, and losing a partner is horrible. My condolences.

      • nicky
        Posted February 24, 2018 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

        Thank you. It is exactly one and a half year ago.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted February 24, 2018 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      Men just don’t admit(!!) to crying. My cousin Janis died of breast cancer at age 46, and it was bit weird given that the up and down cycle of the disease followed her mother’s death of same with clockwork precision.

    • rickflick
      Posted February 24, 2018 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      Cancer is bad news. The good news is many types are survivable now that were not before, and new treatments are always popping up.

      • nicky
        Posted February 24, 2018 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

        Yes that is true, but in young women breast cancer is particularly malignant. Many cancers in the young are.

        • rickflick
          Posted February 25, 2018 at 8:17 am | Permalink

          My daughter is only 34 and has just emerged from chemo. Surgery and radiation is next.

  8. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted February 24, 2018 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    “Spinster” implies unmarried and older as opposed to “maiden” meaning virgin and probably younger unless modified to mean “old maid”. By contrast, “bachelor” carries no age connotation. The English language literally does not have an age-neutral word for an unmarried woman, though it has one for men!!

    =-=-=

    Indra’s Net Theater, a theater company in the Berkeley that specializes in (mostly original) plays about the history of science did a marvelous show on Franklin in 2015. “The Secret of Life”.
    http://www.indrasnettheater.com/secret-of-life/

    A similar play ran in Los Angeles in 2009 called “Photograph 51”
    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/news-blog/new-play-tells-the-story-of-rosalin-2009-03-10/

    • Posted February 24, 2018 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      “Spinster” at the time, simply meant “unmarried”. When the marriage bans were read in church when I were a lad, they were always between XY “bachelor” and XX “spinster”. Despite Jerry’s suggestion, there is nothing pejorative about it. It was a legal term. Photograph 51 appeared on the London stage a couple of years back, with Nicole Kidman as Franklin. – MC

  9. Posted February 25, 2018 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Reader Kevin called my attention to this BBC4 show on Rosalind Franklin. It won’t be available long, I think, so listen to the 43-minute program soon

    I’m going to be a bit pedantic here, but it is not BBC4, it’s BBC Radio 4 or more commonly Radio 4 for short. There is a difference: BBC4 is a television channel, Radio 4 is a speech radio channel. It’s the best thing that the BBC does.

    The programme is part of a long running series called In Our Time – going since 1998. Every single episode is <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/2Dw1c7rxs6DmyK0pMRwpMq1/archive&quot;?available to download. So this episode won’t be disappearing any time soon.

    I haven’t listened to it yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

  10. bric
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    J D Bernal’s obituary of Rosalynd Franlin

    https://t.co/gS2ZSAdTg8

    • bric
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      Sorry ROSALIND

  11. Posted February 26, 2018 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Hm! I’d never seen the “Jewish background” aspect to the R. Franklin story until now.


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