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New award named for Rosalind Franklin
  
By Birgit Reinert

 

The British government is creating a new award in honor of Rosalind Franklin, the scientist whose research played a critical role in the discovery of the structure of DNA. The Franklin Medal is to recognize scientific innovation among women scientists and will be awarded annually by the British Royal Society. It comes with a prize of £30,000 ($43,500).


Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) in France circa 1950.

The award is one of several strategies by the British government to raise the profile of scientific achievement among women scientists. A recent government survey found that many women with a degree in science, engineering or technology do not make use of their university education and training.

The report also found that only a third of the women who return from a break in their careers take jobs that require a university degree. The high percentage of women who do not resume positions in their qualified field has called for action because they are considered a loss to the UK economy.

"Improving the recognition of women's contribution in science and engineering is vital to changing the professional culture and attitudes which hold so many women back. I am proud to be able to give Rosalind Franklin the due recognition she deservers and hope that her amazing achievements will inspire women to consider a career in research and development," Patricia Hewitt, the British Trade and Industry Secretary, was quoted as saying.

Franklin's crucial contribution to science went largely unrecognized at the time it was made. In 1952, while working as a research associate at King's college in Cambridge, England, she produced the first usable X-ray pictures of DNA ever taken. A year later, Francis Crick and James Watson used her pictures to determine that DNA spirals into a double helix.

Rosalind Franklin died in 1958 of ovarian cancer at the early age of thirty-seven. Four years later, her coworker Maurice Wilkins, along with Watson and Crick, were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for the double-helix model of DNA.

Some of Franklin's contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA were posthumously acknowledged in Watson's book The Double Helix. "Since my initial impressions of her, both scientific and personal (as recorded in the early pages of this book), were often wrong, I want to say something here about her achievements. The X-ray work she did at King's is increasingly regarded as superb," Watson writes in the epilogue in 1968.

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Watson, J.D. The Double Helix, Atheneum, New York, 1968.
 

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