Like many other discoveries and inventions, Rosalind Franklin’s achievements are currently being implemented on a great variety of fields. Without her work, most of the new bio-technologies that are currently being developed would not have been researched on the first place.
Her mayor importance has suffered, however, a strong underestimation. At her time, the social prejudices towards women scientists were still very strong. Thus, she had to endure a number of circumstances while doing her experiments and publishing their results.
Franklin had gained a lot of experience while working with x-ray diffraction techniques. That research method allowed her to produce very accurate pictures of different chemical substances. For that reason, she started working with the DNA structure in the King’s College London.
The fact that such molecule was of key importance to the process of reproduction, inheritance and evolution was already widely accepted. The actual processes involved, remained however, uncomprehended. The conformation of the DNA was another mystery that had to be solved before starting further investigations about genetics.
Around 1950, there were many scientists who were trying to find a theoretical model that could satisfactorily explain all the observable behavior of the molecule. As a matter of fact, the competence was very high and researchers had to conceal their conclusions very carefully.
In 1951, Franklin started applying her vast knowledge about x-ray images to the analysis of the DNA structure. The most remarkable aspect of those experiments was her ability to prepare the samples so that the resulting images would be clearer and more useful to her purposes.
For almost two years, she gathered data and published some of her hypothesis but she refused to elaborate a whole theoretical model before having enough information. Her understanding of the DNA structure improved greatly and she gave certain lectures on the topic. On doing that, she caught the attention of some other scientists whose works were oriented on the same direction.
One of them was James Watson, who would later obtain a Nobel Prize for his discoveries. He was a researcher on the DNA structure too and, unlike Franklin, was not so conservative as regards theoretical models. He studied some of Franklin’s conclusions and the images she had produced through x-ray diffraction.
Those involuntary contributions led him to develop the first model of a DNA molecule before Franklin felt confident enough with the amount of her data. It was her experiments and inferences that conducted Watson to his model but that mayor contribution was relegated to a mere acknowledgement on the last page of the publication.
For that reason, much of the credit for his discoveries should be attributed to Rosalind Franklin instead. Thanks to her results, the field of genetics gave a huge leap. It was only after her discoveries that it was possible to have a further comprehension of how certain characteristics are transmitted through the DNA molecules.