Historic and Modern Women in STEM
Podcast by: STANDME
March 24, 2021
In episode two of the STANDME Project Podcast series, we feature prominent scientist Rosalind Franklin, who was able to determine the helical structure of DNA in the 1950s. While attempts to solve the structural DNA problem began with Maurice Wilkins, a British biophysicist who had been working at King’s College in 1951, Rosalind Franklin’s knowledge and expertise of X-ray crystallography would result in the pivotal turning points in early microbiology as she would be the first to photograph structural DNA. With the help of her PhD student Raymond Gosling, Franklin was able to obtain two sets of high-resolution photos of crystallized DNA fibers. With this information, Franklin deduced the basic dimensions of the crystallized DNA strand and hypothesized that the denser regions of the structure (its helices) consisted of phosphate groups. Wilkins later shared Franklin’s photos with Watson and Crick, who were ultimately able to piece together the final puzzle unravelling the structure and composition of DNA. Though Franklin was responsible for determining the helical structure of DNA with her X-ray photographs, many believe she was not given the proper accreditation she deserved due to her status as a woman and the blatant sexism she experienced during her time, as well as her antipathic relationship with her colleague Wilkins. In 1962, the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine was awarded to Watson, Crick, and Wilkins. However, no award was given to Franklin as she had recently passed away four years prior due to ovarian cancer, thus the Nobel committee did not deem Franklin eligible for an award. Although Franklin never received a Nobel award for her contributions to the discovery of DNA, in comparison to her colleagues, she is regarded as one of the giants that helped pioneer future genetic research.
March 24, 2021
Throughout decades of scientific evolution, women of science have contributed much towards its development and understanding. Despite challenges brought upon women of science, from both a historical context to even the modern era, the ability to overcome these obstacles adds uniqueness and authenticity to their success stories and help inspire future generations of women to prosper in this field. Among such successful women is the story of Margaret Huggins, an astronomer and scientific investigator who, with collaborative effort with her husband William Huggins, pioneered the field of stellar spectroscopy in the late 1800s. Margaret’s upbringing into science and academia brought forth unique challenges to obtaining an equitable education despite being a woman. The skills that Margaret developed throughout her lifetime in spectroscopy and photography attribute to her success as a scientist, along with the influences others had in her life which helped support her on her journey.