Biography of Rosalind Franklin

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Rosalind Franklin (1920 - 1958) & the Double Helix


If ever a Jewish scientist was cheated of her achievements it was Rosalind Franklin, the discoverer of the structure of DNA.  DNA abbreviates Deoxyribonucleic acid, which carries genetic information in the human cell and is capable of self-replication.  DNA consists of two long chains of nucleotides twisted into a “double helix”. Helix is the Greek word for a spiral or a snail. The two chains are joined by hydrogen bonds. Those interested in crystallography can find considerable discussions of this phenomenon, which is the outgrowth of cell biology as first developed in the 17th century.

The most popular book concerning the double helix is a work by that name published by James Watson in 1972. In that book, Watson claimed to have found the key to the determination of individual hereditary characteristics. Yet, the truth lay elsewhere. The real discoverer of the DNA structure was Rosalind Franklin.

It was Franklin, not Watson, who obtained excellent X-ray diffraction photographs of DNA. At that time Franklin was working in the laboratory of Kings College in London. In November of 1951 she held a presentation of nucleic acid structure. Present were Maurice Wilkins, who also worked in the Kings College laboratory, and his friend James Watson, who, together with Francis Crick, was working on DNA research at Cambridge University. Using the presentation by Franklin, Crick and Watson built a model of DNA but failed to discover the characteristics they sought.

Franklin, however, was able to photograph the “double helix” and thereby should have been credited with its discovery. Her colleague, Maurice Wilkins, gave these photographs to his friends at Cambridge, who then pretended that they had discovered the structure of DNA. They published “their” results in Nature, and were eventually awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize for a discovery made by Rosalind Franklin, whose name was not even mentioned by the so-called “great scientists”.

Franklin died of ovarian cancer when she was only 37 years old. Since the Nobel Prize cannot be awarded posthumously, her fame and legacy rests on the books and TV presentations which only now give her credit for her monumental discovery.

Franklin was born into a wealthy Jewish family in London. Her people had been English for numerous generations. She was related to Herbert Samuel, also known as Viscount Samuel, who was the governor of British Palestine in the 1930’s. Samuel had been home secretary in the British cabinet during the First World War.

There can be little doubt that Rosalind Franklin was the victim of considerable bias against Jews and women then and now rampant in England. Furthermore, she is not the only scientist whose work was stolen by others. Consider Philo Farnsworth, who, at age 14 (yes, fourteen), invented television, only to have his invention stolen from him by RCA.

Today, over two hundred men are alive because Rosalind Franklin discovered the structure of DNA. These two hundred men were released from “death row” all over the United States because DNA proved their innocence.

It is of course an atrocity that 20% of the 2 million men and women sitting in our prisons are innocent victims of prosecutors, judges, juries and prison “officials” who don’t mind driving utterly innocent people into jail cells and even the death chambers because they profit from these unjust incarcerations.

DNA, as explained by Franklin and used by Barry Scheck of the Yeshiva University School of Law, has freed at least a few of those so mistreated. Scheck developed the INNNOCENCE PROJECT, which has now spread all over the United States and is gradually replacing prejudice and malicious prosecution with scientific evidence, due to Rosalind Franklin.

You may wish to read the book by Brenda Maddox, published recently, or the older book by Anne Sayre about Rosalind Franklin.

In the end, it is not Franklin who was dishonored by those who awarded the Nobel prize to those who stole it from her. It is the Nobel committee which is dishonored by these tactics. Of course, we are not surprised for it was that same Nobel Prize committee which awarded this “honor” to Yasser Arafat (Yemach shemo v’zichro).

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Football & American Identity (2005) &  Youth Culture and the Generation Gap (2005) with Dr. Ursula A. Falk.

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