It was one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century... I bet you didn't know it was a woman who discovered the structure of DNA?

Rosalind Franklin was born in London in 1920. She knew she wanted to be a scientist since she was a teenager. She won a scholarship to Cambridge University where she got her degree and PhD.


She did research on the structure of coal in the 1940’s. Franklin helped determine the density, structure and composition of coal. The porosity of coal was a key factor in the effectiveness of World War II gas masks, which contained activated-charcoal filters. Franklin indirectly aided the design of these gas masks, saving many, many people.

In 1951, Rosalind went to Kings College to conduct research on DNA, one of the hottest topics at the time. She did this by shining high-energy x-rays on to tiny, wet crystals of DNA. Eventually, she obtained Photo 51, the most famous x-ray image of DNA.

Also interested in DNA? Check out our piece on Organic Chemistry.

But before Rosalind could finish her analysis and publish her findings, Photo 51 was stolen by a colleague. It was shown to researchers James Watson and Francis Crick, who published their findings without acknowledging Rosalind’s stolen contribution. They went on the win the Nobel Prize for discovering the structure of DNA.

Which women won Nobel Prizes for their DNA discoveries? Check it out here.

Rosalind did publish her own manuscript on the structure of DNA but no one believed it was she who had actually discovered it. She died in 1958 from cancer.

Find out more about Rosalind here on

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