Here’s the thing you might not know about Rosalind Franklin. She was a great-big-smarty-pants. Well, you might know this. (There are some pretty smarty-pants people who read this thing.) But a lot of people don’t know her at all. Today is her birthday. July 25, 1920. She wasn’t here very long either. Only 37 years. Franklin died of Ovarian Cancer.
But that isn’t the story. The big thing here is DNA. She is the person who came up with the earliest model of our DNA structure. Rosalind Elsie Franklin was her full name. She was a chemist and X-ray crystallographer (she looked at really small things using x-ray), who resided and worked in England. I bet she talked with one of those smarty-British-accents, too. Sort of like Judi Dench, in the Bond films.
Anyway. She was the one who came to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), among other things. It was back in the late 1940s, and 1950s, when all of this was being hashed out. She was the one leading the field, and coming up with the big ideas.
There were a lot of people back then, doing the same research. It was almost like a contest, to see who could figure it first. A pioneer in her field, she was playing this “game” with a bunch of men. Franklin was proving her point with X-ray diffraction images of DNA. In particular, there was one image — Photo 51 — which led to the discovery of the DNA double helix.
It is kind of a long story. (and very involved), but some science-guys got a hold of her work, and declared that they had “found the secret of life.” They were in a Pub when they declared this. Seriously. Their names were James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins. They all won a Nobel Prize for their incredible “findings.”
So there it is. One brilliant woman, overshadowed by the male-driven world, of the 1950s. While this is getting better, women still get the shaft, more often than not.
The science community now recognizes that she was the big player in all this DNA discovery business. But the Nobel Prize committee does not make posthumous nominations. So there it is. Happy Double-Helix Birthday Roz.
People like this amaze me though. I mean, was she sitting at her kitchen table one night, having tea, and thinking, “I wonder what molecular structure in my butt, makes my butt, MYYYYY BUTT!?” And then she finished the rest of her strawberry scone, rolled up her sleeves, and got to work.
And DNA of all things. Specifically, deoxyribonucleic acid. It is our very own genetic code. Our blueprint. It determines all the characteristics of any living thing. People. Squirrels. Deer. Apples. Basically, our DNA is what makes us, unique.
WE got our DNA from our parents. Our hereditary material. Our information that is passed on to the next generation. (Which is why some people argue that certain other-people should not do any passing down.) But. Nobody else in the world will have the same as DNA. Well, unless you have an identical twin.
So, I for one, as I step out today, in my finest hat and cane, will see the world through new eyes. I’ll walk about knowing that I am me. My DNA is the proof in my very pudding. My “what’s under the hood of that thing?” It is my secret handshake AND my secret recipe.
And hopefully, as my very specific self, goes about my very individual way, it will be a good way. A kind way. A compassionate and thoughtful way. Knowing full well that I am here, with 7 billion other very special, custom-DNA-built, humans. Unique. Exactly… but nothing like… me.
“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
“You are so busy being YOU that you have no idea how utterly unprecedented you are.”
― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
“I, myself, am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”
― Augusten Burroughs