Why is Rosalind a Boss?
Rosalind Franklin was born in 1920, into a wealthy Jewish family. Daughter of a banker, she could have chosen the easy life of being born into a rich family, however she devoted her whole life to science, and it is possible that science cost her her life. She died of ovary cancer a the early age of 37, probably because of long exposure to X-rays during her investigations.
She studied the Natural Sciences Tripos at Newnham College, Cambridge in 1941; but she could not graduate, since Cambridge did not allow women to graduate until 1947.
Rosalind was an incredibly intelligent woman, and she always showed a strong personality and character. Some research directors at some projects where she worked, used to say that they felt threatened by her, since she would always speak looking you in the eye and in an assertive manner. It seems these attitudes were reserved to men, and it was always a professional problem for Rosalind.
After the war she lived in Paris for 5 years, and then went back to London to work at King’s College. This was an extremely chauvinist institution, and research was a field reserved practically only for men. Rosalind had to eat with the students, since the women scientists were not allowed to eat at the common room with the men, so she could never participate at the work conversations that would happen there. They would call her Rosie behind her back, name that she hated, and she had to listen to “if you did your hair and use makeup, you could look like a woman” measuring her up mor for her looks than for her excellent work.
During her years at King’s College the famous photograph 51 was taken under her supervision. This photography showed the DNA’s double helix. Wilkins, her supervisor, took this and Rosalind’s conclusions to Watson and Crirk, that had been doing research about this for years, and soon after the published in Nature the famous article about the molecule of life. They only mentioned her saying that her work had “stimulated” them.
In 1953 she moved to another college. Looking for a working atmosphere in which she wasn’t undervalued for being a woman, she went to Birkbeck College, to the Physics department run by J.D. Bernal, a recognized crystallographer, Irish communist, who was dedicated to promote women in the field. It was a more humble centre, but she was treated with dignity. The years that she was working there she made numerous discoveries about RNA and viruses.
The 17th of April of 1958, at the Brussels World’s Fair, Rosalind herself built a one and a half meter model of a TMV, made with golf balls and bike handles. Rosalind Elsie Franklin passed away just the day before the inauguration.
From a young age, Rosalind was a rebel who would question what others took for granted. Her mother remembered that, when they argued about God’s existence, Rosalind said: “Well, anyhow how do you know He isn’t a She?”. Rosalind fought in a world reserved for men to be respected for her research and her findings. Rosalind was a bright scientist and a pioneer among women in science. She was, and still is, an inspiration. Her findings were many and she was recognized as an exceptional crystallographer, but one of her biggest achievements was taken from her. In 1962, having finished their research on DNA; Wilkins, Watson y Crirk won the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Only Wilkins succinctly remembered her in his thank you speech.
Our tribute to Rosalind is that you remember her every time that you drink this beer, La Jefa Rosalind. Cheers!