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History of Medicine

Special Event: "Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA."

  • Date/Time/Location: Wednesday, February 7, 2007 from 2:00-3:15 pm, Natcher Auditorium Balcony B, Bldg. 45, NIH, Bethesda, MD

  • Speaker: Brenda Maddox

  • Reason for event: To celebrate the release of the Rosalind Franklin Papers on Profiles in Science Web site (http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/).

Announcement: During 1952, British chemist and crystallographer Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958), working at King's College, took extraordinary X-ray diffraction photos of DNA, attempting to map its molecular structure by mathematically analyzing the diffraction patterns made by the X-rays. One of those photos and one of her unpublished research reports gave James Watson and Francis Crick the essential clues they needed to complete a correct theoretical model of DNA in 1953, a discovery which earned them a Nobel Prize in 1962. Franklin's key contributions to this seminal discovery were not acknowledged at the time, or for many years afterward; Watson and Crick had accessed her data without her knowledge, and she left the King's College lab and DNA work just as they were publishing their model. Just five years later she died of ovarian cancer. Her role in the discovery was largely unknown until Watson caricatured her as "Rosy" in his 1968 memoir The Double Helix. This lecture will address this episode of Franklin's scientific career, exploring how she came to work on DNA, why she left that work after just two years to study virus structures, and why one estranged colleague called her the "dark lady."

The Rosalind Franklin Papers will soon be available on NLM's Profiles in Science at http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov. The online exhibit will feature correspondence, draft and published articles, laboratory notebooks, and photographs from the Rosalind Franklin collection at the Churchill Archives Centre at Cambridge University.

Brenda Maddox is the prize-winning author of the biography Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA, and has also published biographies of Nora Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, Elizabeth Taylor, W. B. Yeats, and Dr. Ernest Jones.

All are welcome.

Sponsored by the History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine.

Sign language interpretation will be provided. Individuals with disabilities who need reasonable accommodation to participate in this event should contact Christie Moffatt at 301-496-9136, e-mail moffattc@mail.nih.gov, or the Federal Relay (1-800-877-8339).

Due to current security measures at NIH, off-campus visitors are advised to consult the NIH visitors and Security web site at http://www.nih.gov/about/visitorsecurity.htm