Google Doodle honors Rosalind Franklin, the unsung scientist who snapped the first photo of DNA


posted Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 4:10 PM EDT


What happened to Rosalind Franklin is one of the great crimes of modern science. Franklin was a British biophysicist and X-ray crystallographer who was instrumental in discovering the double helix shape of DNA — but was never given the credit she deserved during her life. Today's Google Doodle marks what would have been Franklin's 93rd birthday, and the photograph that should have earned her a far more famous place in the history books.

Franklin was responsible for the famed Photo 51, an X-ray diffraction image of DNA that is regarded as crucial in discovering that DNA has its famed double helix structure. Her data was used by Watson and Crick to establish their model of the structure of DNA — which they won a Nobel prize for — but they downplayed her role substantially. It wasn't until decades later that Franklin's contribution (and the use of her data) began to be acknowledged.

X-ray crystallography is a type of photographic method used for determining the atomic and molecular structure of crystals, inorganic, organic and biological molecules. The molecules are used to form crystals, which then have X-rays beamed through them. The X-rays diffract in specific directions, and from this diffraction, data can be gathered about the size, shape, and structure of the original molecules.

Since the 90s, Franklin has received a large amount of posthumous recognition for her contributions to science, and the field of X-ray crystallography. The original downplay of her contributions is frequently cited as an example of sexism in academia, and recent decades have seen much in the way of redressing her place in the history books. Franklin died tragically early, at the age of 37, from ovarian cancer.