Monday, September 10, 2007

juicy back stories on famous biologists

In most textbooks it seems like scientists just waltz into their labs, fiddle around for a bit, then wait for the Nobel Committee to call. Sadly, the road to discovery is rarely that simple, and speed bumps pop up constantly. Call it historical context or call it dirt; there’s always more to the story.

3. Rest in Peace Prize

Many people have heard about Watson and Crick, the dynamic duo of DNA. Fewer have heard of Rosalind Franklin, unless they’ve heard about the Nobel controversy. Franklin (1920 - 1958) took the X-ray photographs that are credited with making DNA structure clear to Watson and Crick and leading to the Nobel Prize the men shared with Maurice Wilkins. So, why didn’t she just look at the picture and see it herself? Well, for one thing, an X-ray diffraction picture looks a lot like children’s spin-art. Taking such pictures is difficult and interpreting them, an art. Also, many times breakthroughs require the perspectives of people from different areas. But was Rosalind Franklin denied a Nobel Prize due to sexism? Absolutely not. The proof: Watson, Crick, and Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962. Franklin died of ovarian cancer four years earlier, and Nobels are not awarded posthumously.

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