Rosalind Franklin's role in discovery of DNA recognised with blue plaque

The Jewish scientist's pioneering work previously escaped recognition


A Jewish scientist who played a key role in discovering the structure of DNA is set to be honoured with a blue plaque that acknowledges her contribution.

Chemist Rosalind Franklin took an X-ray photo that allowed her colleagues, Francis Crick and James Watson, to uncover the now-famous double helix structure that is essential to all life.

In February 1953, the two men announced their discovery at The Eagle pub in Cambridge.

However, when the first blue plaque was put up in 2003 at the pub, it did not mention Franklins’ role.

"For decades the Eagle was the local pub for scientists from the nearby Cavendish Laboratory," the initial plaque read.

"It was here on February 28, 1953, that Francis Crick and James Watson first announced their discovery of how DNA carries genetic information."

Underneath, in 2017, someone graffitied "+ Franklin". The new plaque will record her contribution permanently.

Penny Heath, who chairs the Cambridge Blue Plaque Committee, told the BBC: "In recent years there have been efforts to increase awareness of the role played by important female scientists, whose work has sometimes been overshadowed by their male colleagues.

"Rosalind Franklin was one such scientist and so the DNA plaque without her name became emblematic of this cause.

"Over time, the condition of the plaque had deteriorated, and we decided to replace it, and this has given us the opportunity to recognise the work of Franklin, Maurice Wilkins and others, as well as that of Crick and Watson."

Franklin, who also worked on the structure of Ribonucleic acid (RNA) and viruses, was born into a prominent Jewish family in 1920.

Her great-uncle was Herbert Samuel, the first practising Jew to serve in the British Cabinet.

During World War Two, her family took in Kindertransport refugees at their Notting Hill home.

Franklin died of ovarian cancer aged just 37 in 1958, meaning she was not eligible for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine won by Crick, Watson and biophysicist Maurice Wilkins.

Had she lived, Watson said, she would likely have won a Nobel in chemistry.

Blue plaques recognise people who have made a significant impact on a local area.

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