Rosalind Franklin: Scientist
Emma Velis, Science Teaching Fellow
poster of Rosalind Franklin

*STEM Role Model Posters generously provided by Nevertheless Podcast. You can print them and hang them in your classroom or office too! 

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One of the posters in the science and art hallway this month highlights Rosalind Franklin, a woman who was a chemist and X-ray crystallographer whose work helped reveal the double helix structure of DNA. Unfortunately, her contributions to this discovery are often overlooked when we tell the story of Watson and Crick, two men who are credited with discovering the structure of DNA. Over the course of her scientific career, Franklin was looked down on and left out for being a woman, essentially being treated as an assistant when she was a capable and qualified scientist in her own right.

When I learned of Franklin’s life and work in my freshman year of college, it helped me to better understand my grandma. Franklin and my grandmother were of the same generation but despite her love of biology, my grandma did not pursue a science degree. When I was younger, I didn't understand what she was up against or the extraordinary challenges that women in science faced in earlier eras. In my grandma’s time, it was so hard to be a woman and a scientist. Perhaps it didn't even seem fathomable to her that it was even an option within her reach. I think this is why she was ecstatic when I majored in biology. 

I’m grateful to have gone to college at a time when women have the space to be leaders in many scientific fields. We’ve come a long way since the time of Rosalind Franklin. However, we still have a ways to go to create equal opportunities in science. According to UNESCO, less than 30 % of the world’s researchers are women. NSF statistics also reveal huge racial and ethnic disparities in representation in science professions. It is my hope that more young women today will learn about significant historical moments in science and the women who made those contributions. It would also be really wonderful for more grandmothers to be enthusiastic and encouraging, like mine was, about their grandaughters majoring in sciences.

Emma observing a math class

Photos contributed by Kate Houle, Communications Specialist.