Rosalind Franklin: Dark Lady of DNA
A foremost crystallographer, Rosalind originally photographed a strand of DNA, after many attempts, leading to the prestigious Nobel Prize awarded to Crick and Watson. Needless to say, they could not have succeeded without her contribution; and needless to say, they neglected to mention her contribution in their paper submission and physical model of deoxyribonucleic acid.
A precocious child, Rosalind never relented in the quest for knowledge and advancement beyond her peers. Always, she strived to excel in academia, in science, and in industry, and received top marks in all academic courses and scientific enterprises. Though a very handsome woman, her quest for excellence left little time for romantic bonds with the many men associated in scientific circles. While she met an impressive array of intellectuals and those with scientific (and romantic) bent, she did not marry and died alone at a young, aged 37. Many men wept at her demise, recognizing the hardships endured, the lack of recognition, and the short-lived life of an attractive and exceedingly brilliant Hebrew woman, mathematician, crystallographer, and biochemist. She advanced to excellence despite open anti-Semitism and opposition to authoritative women: growing up in a time when women were not allowed to vote, to occupy assertive positions, or to do little but brood children and housekeep.
Fluent in French as well as her native English, she developed intense interest in an end to the British Mandate and Israel reinstatement to sovereignty in Palestine and was incensed by French news coverage of the transition. In correspondence with her father about an article contained in <u>The Economist</u>, she demanded, “<i>Who is responsible for the article: There can now be no settlement of Palestine of any kind but force</i>.” Despite her loyalty, she was out of touch with the Middle Eastern mindset and Arab resentment to anything non-Islam; prophetically, the French article was entirely correct. Sixty years later, the Arab world continues its jihad against infidels.
Notwithstanding her optimism, Rosalind’s interest and expertise lay not so much in metaphysics as in physics. Well she might direct interest to the tangible; for, the intangible monotheism, as subsequently proven, cannot concurrently harmonize within the disciplines advanced among its three constituent branches. For, Judaism must condemn the Christian-Islam adoption; Christianity must condemn the Judaism-Islamic neglect to Messianic recognition; and Islam must condemn the Judeo-Christian ethics and ethos. But Rosalind was more interested in Atomic propensity and not in warring Gnostic proclivities.
When Rosalind Franklin arrived to King’s College in 1951, at age 31, she arrived on the heels of Schrodinger’s (prevailing enquiry at the time) question about: What Is Life? And his answer was: ‘life is animation of the inanimate.’ Not especially profound but a touchstone of the times.
In particle physics’ developing years, Einstein, Bohr, (and many others) lent their expertise via relativity and quantum mechanics, lending advancement to molecular science and the biochemistry industry. Forthwith, geneticists discovered twenty different protein molecules present in living things. Further, they found four proteins only to occur in DNA sequences, in varying combinations called nucleotides: two purines (adenine and guanine) and two pyrimidines (thymine and cytosine). We might produce a more clear composite should we say each of the four nucleotides contain a sugar, phosphate, and base; and we might add, these nucleotides direct every aspect of DNA (bodily) function. We give cytosine’s atomic structure as an example of constituent simplicity: C4H5N3O (the other three have C5 and variant other elements).
Great advances were known when Rosalind Franklin arrived to King’s College. In the 40’s, ‘atomic fission’ and ‘hydrogen fusion’ had already been perfected. In 1944, Avery wrote a paper proving the genetic message carrier was DNA and not merely protein; in 1949, Chargaff determined the frequency and propensity of nucleotide repetition. On the heels of first-half century advancements, Rosalind spent long hours perfecting x-ray diffraction techniques -- exposing her body to inordinate amounts of radiation in the process. Thus, we know in retrospect, crystallography was her life and probable cause of her death. But through unequalled spectrographic technique, she extracted DNA imagery and enabled others to race against the clock and claim the coveted Nobel Prize. Among many of her scientific advances, Rosalind’s greatest single success was DNA imagery.
Brenda Maddox writes a tragic but deserving story of extraordinary intelligence, unflagging dedication, and perseverance. Rosalind Franklin was one in a million. I read this book almost straight through. I could not lay it aside.