There are many hardworking scientists who were unfairly denied the recognition they deserved; perhaps one of the more notable examples of this is the case of Rosalind Franklin. She made a revolutionary discovery about DNA, only to have the credit stripped from her. Her long journey to this earth-shaking discovery eventually amounted to nothing (at least, for a few decades). And even though there were rules, perhaps even laws against such acts, humans are ultimately bound only by the laws of nature.
Franklin was born into an affluent family and started her education at St. Paul’s Girls’ School. There, she excelled in her studies, especially science, and found her way to Cambridge, an honor that was not granted to most women at the time. She graduated from Cambridge in 1941 at the age of 21, but the arrival of World War II put a sudden halt to her blossoming scientific career.
Nevertheless, she became part of a research group during the war effort and was actually able to use her findings there for her doctorate thesis in 1945, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. She then studied X-ray diffraction (the process of using X-rays to determine the crystal shape of materials) until 1950, which would prove particularly useful when she migrated her studies to deoxyribonucleic acid, more commonly known as DNA.
Using the X-ray diffraction techniques she had acquired, Franklin was able to find the density of DNA and even established its shape as a double helix. These were revolutionary discoveries and provided much-needed enlightenment in the field of DNA. Unfortunately, everything would start to go downhill from there.
Maurice Wilkins, a colleague of Rosalind Franklin who worked in the same lab, had a personal feud with Franklin, prompting him to take Franklin's famous "Photo 51" (the one that established the shape of DNA) and use it without Franklin's permission. This happened to be the final piece of a DNA study conducted by James Watson and Francis Crick which had eluded them for so long. Combining this and all of their other work, they were able to get a Nobel Prize for their discovery. Egregiously, however, they barely gave Rosalind Franklin any credit, and according to Kat Zukaitis in her article "A Nobel Experiment: Rosalind Franklin and the Prize," Rosalind Franklin's name was mentioned, "only in passing."
If you think this was the only instance where a woman scientist was discriminated against, you would be wrong. A scientist named Lise Meitner worked with Otto Hahn during World War II, and they discovered nuclear fission together. However, Otto Hahn took the Nobel Prize for himself, and it was not split between the two. This was not necessarily Hahn's fault but still goes to show that there has been a history of discrimination against women scientists.
What is perhaps even more upsetting is that Franklin never knew that her work was taken, even to the day of her death. According to Britannica, "Franklin was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1956 ... and she passed away on April 16, 1958." She passed away before she had time to bask in the respect of millions around the globe and to feel rewarded for her accomplishments. She wasn't able to see how big of an impact her work had on the world, all because her work had been used without her permission.
Throughout history, many women have been denied the recognition they deserve, including Rosalind Franklin. These stories show that when humans are left to their own devices, they do what they please, even if there are rules against doing so. Prejudice against women scientists was prevalent at the time, and the snuffling of the accomplishments of Rosalind Franklin is a great example. Even though all genders were originally created to be equal, there was no rule set in stone to enforce the concept; hence, people thought it was okay to discriminate against women when it really isn't.
Jennifer Rose says
Thanks for taking up such an important topic, Daniel. I just watched a documentary called Picture a Scientist on Nova, and this topic is fresh on my mind. Nice work!