Rosalind Franklin and Photo 51 Honored in Google Doodle


On what would have been her 93rd birthday, today’s Google Doodle honors Rosalind Franklin. Franklin took an X-ray diffraction image of the DNA molecule in 1952. The image was called Photo 51 and was the critical piece to identifying the structure and composition of DNA.

“We’re wishing a happy birthday to British biophysicist and X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin, whose work was critical to our understanding of DNA and RNA and led to the discovery of the DNA double helix,” Google announced via Google+.

Today’s logo depicts Franklin in the second “O,” staring through her X-ray tubes, which represent the “G” at a double helix, representing the “l.” The Google “e” is an image of what DNA looked like in her now-famous Photo 51 image.

Franklin was the daughter of an affluent British family who attended Newnham College and King’s College. Her early areas of research were with coal, detailing its permeability.

It was her work that led to the use of coal as a fuel, as well as a filter for gas masks. Her work with coal was the basis for her thesis, earning her a PhD from Cambridge University.

Rosalind FranklinAs a research associate at King’s College London, Franklin was assigned to work with then-student Raymond Gosling. Her knowledge of chemistry and X-ray diffraction led to her photograph.

Her research and papers contributed to the understanding of the composition of both the A-DNA and B-DNA molecules as helices.

In later years, three other researches were passed information on Franklin’s research. Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins later mapped the double helix. Their work earned them a Nobel Prize in 1962, four years after Franklin died of ovarian cancer.

Although best known for her work on mapping DNA, Franklin also used X-ray crystallography to study the tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) and researched RNA, specifically in regards to RNA viruses. While immensely sick and undergoing cancer treatment, Franklin and her research team produced 13 papers in the last two years leading up to her death in 1958.

Posthumously, Franklin has been recognized in a number of ways. King’s College in London named a dormitory Rosalind Franklin Hall and an academic building named the Franklin-Wilkins building. The American National Cancer Institute established the Rosalind E. Franklin Award for Women in science. In 2004, The Chicago Medical School renamed its Finch University to the Rosalink Franklin University of Medicine and Science.

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