A Lasting Legacy

Though Dr. Franklin’s brilliant career was cut short by her untimely death in 1958, the importance of her work is recognized to this day. There is no question that her contributions to humanity will be acknowledged for many years to come.

The Work Continues

Rosalind left King’s College in early 1953 for the Biomolecular Research Laboratory at Birkbeck College, also in London. For the next few years, she worked on several important research projects. One of these involved applying her expertise in X-ray crystallography to the study of RNA, like DNA, a nucleic acid within the cell that sustains life.

Diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1956, Rosalind continued to work and explore new avenues of research. She died two years later at the age of 37.

While she was recognized in academic circles for her many accomplishments, the magnitude of her work in DNA research — and the struggles she endured along the way — didn’t become well-known until four decades after her passing. Since then, honors have poured forth from around the world.

Today, Birkbeck’s School of Crystallography includes a laboratory named in her honor. The UK is home to the Rosalind Franklin Institute, an interdisciplinary medical research center. Research awards that bear her name are sponsored by the American National Cancer Institute and the Royal Society in the UK. The European Space Agency in 2019 dubbed its ExoMars rover “Rosalind Franklin.” The rover is expected to launch on what would have been her 100th birthday — July 25, 2020.

Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science

Perhaps the most well-known posthumous recognition was the 2004 renaming of a Chicago-area health sciences university in her honor. Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science (RFU) also incorporates Photo 51 in its logo.

Today, RFU has more than 2,000 students in five different colleges:

  • Chicago Medical School
  • College of Health Professions
  • College of Pharmacy
  • Dr. William M. Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine
  • School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies

RFU is committed to preserving Dr. Rosalind Franklin’s legacy through innovations in biomedical research, interprofessional education and collaborative practice, and community health.

A Model for Women in STEM

Another important aspect of Dr. Franklin’s legacy has been the example she set for women everywhere. Though she faced a number of obstacles, many brought about by the sexist attitudes of the time, she didn’t let those keep her from striving toward what she knew to be her life’s work.

There are several “what ifs?” surrounding her life. If she hadn’t been forced to work in isolation at King’s College, would she have unlocked the structure of DNA first? What other discoveries might she have made had she lived longer?

As it stands, though, her accomplishments help show that women can excel in intellectually demanding fields, but also could measure up to men in performing the most critical, groundbreaking work in these areas.

Women who study STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects or go into these professions — and there are more of them every day — have trailblazers like Rosalind Franklin to thank for paving the way.