In 1962 a Nobel Prize was awarded to Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins for discovering the structure of DNA. However, there was a fourth discoverer: Rosalind Franklin. So why didn’t she get given the prize?
Franklin was an English biophysicist who, in the early 1950s, was working at Kings College London under Maurice Wilkins. They were researching a puzzling molecule called DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). Scientists were sure that this molecule was the foundation of life, but the problem was that no one could work out how it was structured.
In 1952, Franklin’s lab was creating photographs of DNA using a process called x-ray diffraction. One of these photos, ‘Photograph 51’ to be precise, had a blurry ‘x’ in the middle. This pattern suggested that DNA had a helical structure. Behind Franklin’s back, Wilkins showed the photo to Francis Crick and James Watson, two scientists working at Cambridge. Seeing the ‘x’ shaped structure allowed them to correctly descibe the double helix in 1953. Nine years later, Wilkins, Crick and Watson received the Nobel Prize for the discovery.
Franklin was overlooked because of some technicalities. Firstly, a Nobel Prize can only be given to three people. Secondly, and more importantly, the Nobel Commitee only consider living people, and the award was given four years after Franklin’s death. Whatever the reasons, it seems a bit unfair that Franklin has not been recognised to the same extent as the three prize-winners.
We were reminded of Franklin this year when her acheivements were recognised by a Google doodle. It’s not quite a Nobel Prize but it’s something, right?
You can find out more about the discovery of DNA on the Nobel Prize website.