Rosalind Franklin would probably not have appreciated her posthumous reputation. First there was the colossal insult of being denied due credit for her role in the discovery of DNA’s double helix shape, a breakthrough that revealed not only the form of our genetic material, but also how it functioned. James Watson and Francis Crick received the lion’s share of the glory for that finding, and for decades Franklin was a historical footnote.
But it seems likely that this no-nonsense scientist wouldn’t have appreciated being reduced to a feminist cartoon either–more recently, she’s been held up as an example of a woman crushed by the good old boys network.
That’s why a new play at New York’s Ensemble Studio Theatre is so necessary, and so right on the money. The play, called Photograph 51, honors Franklin’s achievements and rues her relative obscurity, but it also returns to her the ambiguities and complexities that a real human being deserves.
Almost 50 years after they won the Nobel Prize for defining the structure of DNA, Maurice Wilkins, James Watson, and Francis Crick are in the news again.
Nine boxes of “lost” correspondence (from the days before email!) between two competing groups of researchers have been unearthed. The letters, between Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin of King’s College and Watson and Crick at Cambridge University, provide insight into the researchers’ mindsets while they were making these historic, game-changing discoveries.
“The [letters] give us much more flavor and examples illuminating the characters and the relations between them,” said study researcher Alexander Gann, editorial director at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press in New York. “They’re consistent with what we already believed, but they add important details.” [MSNBC.com]
Gann and Jan Witkowski published a commentary on the new material in the September 30 issue of Nature. The letters highlight the different mentalities between the two groups as they approached the project: an attitude of spirited excitement on the side of the Cambridge clan, and an air of anxiety from Wilkins.