Although I’m not currently in the world of formal academia, I still consider myself a scientist. I wonder at the nature of things, how rocky formations came to be, what pollinates a yellow lotus-like flower in an Oregon lake, and quiz myself on phyla and genera. I love to revel and investigate nature’s beauty. As a lady who holds a BS in Biology, I have many to thank, but perhaps a category of persons who deserve the most appreciation are those women scientists who came before me. My biology, chemistry, geology, ecology, and calculus classes were filled with intelligent young women, but until quite recently it was unheard of or even illegal for women to pursue higher education, much less in the sciences. One of my favorite women scientists is Rosalind Franklin.
Rosalind went to St. Paul’s Girl’s School in London where she excelled in the sciences. Although she was a stellar student her father was not supportive of her dreams to become a scientist. After relenting, he allowed her to attend Cambridge University, where she received a doctorate in Physical Chemistry. While in Paris, she learned techniques for X-ray crystallography (a method for determining the molecular and atomic structure of a crystal through the diffraction of X-ray beams), returning to London to work at King’s College and producing the first X-ray images of DNA. Another DNA researcher at King’s, Maurice Wilkins, showed one of Rosalind’s images to James Watson who, along with Francis Crick, quickly determined the double helical nature of DNA and published “their” findings in Nature. Rosalind and her work were only briefly mentioned in a passing footnote. Watson and Crick, standard names in genetic classes around the world, won the Nobel prize in 1962, while Rosalind remains relatively unknown to this day. She died of ovarian cancer in 1958.
Stay tuned next week for more inspirational women!