Fact: Her memory lives on through the work of the Rosalind Franklin Society.
IT honours her achievements and those of other outstanding female scientists.
Importantly, it fosters greater opportunities for females in science.
Rosalind Franklin'sPhotograph 51
showing the structure of DNA
This week I had the fortune to see Photograph 51 by Anna Ziegler. It is a fantastic play about the eminent female scientist Rosalind Franklin, who earned the right to be a household name but sadly isn't one. I was really keen to see the play for several reasons; bargain £10 tickets, seeing Nicole Kidman in the flesh (with binoculars), a rare night out with my husband and a keen interest in Franklin’s life. My life and Franklin’s are thinly woven together through our connection with King’s College in London. I was an undergraduate King’s medic from 1985-1990 and she was an X ray crystallographer researcher at King’s from 1951-1953. We both spent two years of our lives at The Strand, the King's College buildings that are very conveniently placed near the delights of Covent Garden shops. Naturally, as a medic, I had often heard the names ‘Watson and Crick’ banded about. After all, the discovery of the structure of DNA was a major leap forward for all things medical. Watson, Crick and Wilkins (Franklin's colleague from King's) were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1962 and thereafter catapulted into the history books. There has been controversy surrounding their Nobel award as Franklin was unaware of them having access to one of her photographs that fuelled their 'light bulb' moment. However, her failure to become a Noble Prize-winner was essentially her untimely death of ovarian cancer in 1958 at the age of 37 and the fact that the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously. It has been suggested that her crucial work on the structure of DNA would also have been recognised with the Nobel Prize for chemistry if she had lived long enough.
The play was a great date night for two geeky scientist types. My husband and I saw the audience through our geeky tinted spectacles and thought they were all devoted scientists too. But, if the truth be known they were probably Kidman groupie's as I am sure she has major crowd pulling potential. I was heart-warmed that Photograph 51, with Nicole Kidman as Franklin, is a fitting tribute to Franklin's work. She came across as a remarkable female in a male dominated environment.
To cut a long story short I went back, worked hard and stuck it out for the five years and was really proud when I qualified. I have been fortunate that medicine, especially General Practice, has offered me a fantastic profession with part-time options so that I could have a career and raise a family. I have moved on from General Practice to be a Medical Advisor for The Ministry of Justice. It is a serious job despite having a title akin to Harry Potter's Ministry of Magic or Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks! It too is very rewarding and flexible for a family orientated female. Many pioneering women have paved the way so that I could follow my chosen career at a time when women were given more opportunities. It was not that long ago, in the 1950's, that Rosalind Franklin was not even able to eat in the Senior common room at King's as it was a men's only domain! Also I recognise that I have been able to combine it with a family, which she sadly was not.
These reminiscences have also reminded me in the power of fiction, in the shape of a radio drama or a theatre production, to create a ripple effect and leave a lasting impression.
The fact that the stage set is mainly centred around Franklin's lab at King's left me pondering about my time at King's and about female scientists in general. That coupled with the departure of my daughter’s boyfriend for university as an excited fresher and my son going back for his second year also reminded me that it is thirty years this September since I was a King's fresher. I had been an excited but apprehensive fresher. Medicine was something that I had wanted to study from a young age. I thought being a GP would be like stepping into an episode of Dr Findlay’s casebook on the radio. He was at the heart of his fictitious Scottish community of Tannochbrae and I wanted some of that community love. Looking back I find it strange that a radio play had such a big impact on my career choice as I didn't live in a small Scottish community and never would and my real GP life in a large, busy town practise did not resemble his fictitious existence at all. It is also funny to reminisce that I was taken to my halls of residence on the Sunday with all my new random room stuff (no IKEA in those days for full student room kit) only to reappear on my parent’s doorstep the following day. I had only given it one day but homesickness had got the better of me!