Rosalind's diligent work ethic drove her to create the best photo of DNA which led to key insights on the double helix structure.
Born in London to a Jewish family, From age 15, Rosalind knew she wanted to be a scientist, however, her father disagreed that women should get a university education and refused to pay her tuition. With Rosalind's early ambition and intelligence, her aunt said she would pay for her education and her mother, an early suffragette also convinced him that it would be worth it. Rosalind finally got the chance to study chemistry at Cambridge's all-female school.
Studying During WWII
As an Assistant Research Officer, Rosalind studied the how to burn coal more efficiently as her contribution towards WWII efforts. She published five fundamental and frequently cited papers on the subject and this earned her a Ph.D. from Cambridge. Rosalind also volunteered as an Air Raid Warden where she would check in on different groups during air raids.
After the war, Rosalind worked on X-ray crystallography at Kings College. There she refined the process and assisted in taking Photograph 51, which took over 100 hours of X-ray exposure. Photograph 51 has been cited in many papers to identify the structure of DNA. Rosalind was renowned for the quality of her photographs due to her "extreme care in preparation and mounting of the specimens as well as in the taking of the photographs." Her patience and dedication to the craft allowed her to stand out in her male-dominated field.
Her lab partner Maurice Wilkins showed other DNA structure researchers Watson and Crick Photograph 51 without her permission. This image gave Watson and Crick crucial information on the structure of DNA and adding to their own research, it allowed them to publish a more in-depth paper than Rosalind could. Rosalind never found out that her image was influential to Watson and Crick's understanding of DNA.
Unfortunately, during Franklin's long hours adjusting her specimens to perfection, she was unprotected from the harmful X-rays. This may have been the factor that caused her ovarian cancer at age 37. Even though her life was cut short, she worked tirelessly until a few weeks before her death. In 1958, Watson, Crick, and Wilkins received the Nobel prize for their work on the structure of DNA. If she was still alive, she may have been awarded the Nobel prize as well.