Rosalind Franklin was born July 25, 1920 in London into a Jewish family. She was the second of the five children, and the eldest daughter. She excelled greatly in school, and was fluent in German and French. In 1938, she won a college scholarship, which she gave to a refugee student in need.


Franklin began studying chemistry at Newnham College, Cambridge in 1938, and in 1941 she was awarded second-class honors from her final exams. In 1945, Cambridge University awarded her a Ph.D. for her research on coal and its structure.

After college, Franklin began using X-ray diffraction to continue her study of coal, with the help of Jacques Mering, an X-ray crystallographer. Soon she was granted a fellowship in 1951 to do medical research at King’s College, London, where she initially researched lipids and proteins, but was quickly reassigned to research DNA fibers. There she discovered the DNA could take two different forms, an important and medical discovery crucial in the understanding of DNA.

A page from Franklin’s journal, detailing DNA.
A page from Franklin’s journal, detailing DNA.

After her important discovery, Franklin moved to the crystallography department of Birkbeck College. Working under J. D. Bernal, she researched and made important advances regarding the structure of various viruses.

Franklin died in 1958 of ovarian cancer. It is unknown if her work with X-rays was a factor in her illness.

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