Happy birthday, Rosalind Franklin!

Did you see today’s Google doodle? That is both a question I wish to ask you, and the question I was asked – via Facebook – by a friend this morning, before I’d even eaten breakfast. It’s been an intense day, so this is a pretty quick entry for you all…but here’s what you need to know:

Today is Rosalind Franklin’s birthday! Happy birthday, Rosalind Franklin!

There are no pictures of Dr. Franklin in the free repositories I like to search for illustrations to present here, although some of those sites are doing maintenance. I’ll be remedying that as soon as I can. For the moment, I will place a picture of a cake here, since I would have put a picture of cake in this entry anyways. And if I could give a one-ton cake to anyone for their birthday, I think I would like to have given one to Dr. Franklin!

PSM V88 D197 One ton birthday cake with electric lights
A GIANT CAKE. Photo not free of copyright everywhere. Originated by Popular Science Monthly, Volume 88, 1916 – click through to the Wikimedia Commons page for more information.

Dr. Franklin is one of those very famous women in science: you are more likely to have heard of her than most other biologists from the past 150 years who happen to be women. There is a popular book about her, Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA, by Brenda Maddox. Her story is famous for some important reasons: her work in x-ray crystallography is understood to have been critical to Watson and Crick figuring out the structure of DNA. Dr. Franklin’s coworkers seem to have, uh, “shared” her work with them…without her knowledge or permission. She died before the Nobel Prize was awarded, and thus was ineligible for the award. Read more about the controversy at a NOVA website presenting an interview with Dr. Lynne Osman Elkin, who has studied Dr. Franklin’s life.

Also, check out the awesome comic from Hark, A Vagrant about the controversy.

Of course, there’s more to Dr. Franklin than that. She struggled in a system that didn’t approve of women in science. She is reported to have also faced challenges because she was Jewish. Also, she was clearly incredibly smart and productive. Her publication rate is beyond impressive.

A picture of two forms of DNA (A and B), of the sort that Dr. Franklin was generating. From Wikimedia Commons. Author: I.C. Baianu et al.

Learn more about Dr. Rosalind Franklin:

At the National Library of Medicine’s site, where you can see some of Dr. Franklin’s own papers

At the Rosalind Franklin Society, which supports women in biological sciences


At NOVA’s website (link goes to the program page for the episode “Secret of Photo 51”, about Dr. Franklin’s work)

At Arizona State University’s Ask A Biologist

At Biography.com

At the San Diego Supercomputer Center


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