WWII started during Franklin's second year at Cambridge. Her father believed that she should be doing something more for the war effort, while Franklin believed she would do the most good to continue to pursue her degree in chemistry. "As my father saw it, Rosalind was taking an unwarranted soft option," Franklin's sister writes in her memoir My Sister Rosalind Franklin, "this was the time when my mother … firmly took Rosalind's side, convinced that she was right to stay in Newnham. Rosalind was, as she herself explained to my father, anxious to do some sort of war work in the vacations, helping my parents with their work for refugees, and was anxious, too, to have some sort of war work using her scientific skills when she graduated--it was then, after all, 1941, and the country was still in crisis. By the time the war was over, the direction of Rosalind's life was clear."
She was introduced to x-ray crystallography in college. I was very fortunate to find some of her notes from her college classes.*
She did very well in school, however, she was always very nervous about exams. She often performed very well, though. She wrote many letters home about her anxiety about her exams in college.
Franklin went on to get a degree in physical chemistry. In 1942, she left college and began her work with coal.
*Note: After writing this I came across even more of her notebooks from school which are published in an online collection of her papers here: wellcomecollection.org/works/h4yftrdd
Rosalind Franklin was born on July 25, 1920, in Chepstow Villas in Notting Hill, London to Ellis and Muriel Franklin. The Franklins were a prominent Anglo-Jewish family in Notting Hill. They had five kids, Rosalind Franklin being the second oldest of them.
She was fascinated by science at a young age. Her brother Colin describes how she loved printing photographs with her mother: "Developing and printing photographs at home, with my mother, was a discovery which thrilled her in childhood, swilling the sensitised paper in a tray of water... watching the image appear, removing it at the right moment of development. I remember her exclamation which pleased my mother, 'It makes me feel all squidgy inside.'"
She began attending St. Paul's Girls' School at age 11 in 1931. She was already showing signs of her interest in science at that age. Her sister described that "early traces of a careful and excited scientist had already appeared [in Franklin].... Indeed, many traits of her character were already clear -- her intelligence, her skill with her hands, her perfectionism, her logical mind, her outspoken honesty." Her mother also said: "All her life, Rosalind knew exactly where she was going, and at sixteen, she took science for her subject."
Franklin did very well in school. As her sister says, "Rosalind's school certificate, in spite of the usual exam nerves, brought her six distinctions, an easy overkill for a matric. For she was able at all subjects, and particularly interested in history, though she never doubted that specialization meant science. And it was to be physical sciences and maths, not biology or botany which were mainly for those wanting to be doctors."
She decided to go to Newnham College at Cambridge University. Newnham was one of the two women's colleges at Cambridge University, the other being Girton. She chose Cambridge because, as her sister puts it: "Cambridge, it was assumed, was the best place for science." And in 1938, a year early, she headed off to Cambridge.
She didn't just do work in DNA. She made great contributions to other studies. She did research involving the micro-structures of coal before she worked on DNA. After her work with DNA, she changed to studying plant viruses.
In this blog, I will tell her story. I'll start with her childhood and tell the story of her life up until her untimely death. I'll also explain the chemistry behind her work. Read more to learn about this amazing scientist and what she's done for the world.
Loren Sinclair is a high school student interested in chemistry, art, computer science, theater, and everything else! They are writing this blog to tell Rosalind Franklin's often untold tale, from her life story to the science behind her work.