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Rosalind Franklin and the Search for DNA

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In 1962, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was a awarded jointly to Francis Harry Compton Crick, James Dewey Watson, and Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins for their discovery of the structure of DNA. Many are aware of Watson and Crick's work in "discovering" DNA in 1953. But the world had known about DNA since 1944, when Oswald Avery declared it to be the molecule that carried genetic information. For years, scientists had raced to learn more about DNA. Watson and Crick worked on DNA in the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge. Physicist Maurice Wilkins was one of several scientists working on DNA at Kings College in London. And so was Rosalind Franklin

1962 Nobel laureates Maurice Wilkins, Max Perutz, Francis Crick, John Steinbeck, James Watson, and John C Kendrew. Photo from Keystone/Getty Images.

Sir John Randall assembled a team of scientists to work on the problem of DNA at his Kings College laboratory that included both Wilkins, who had just left work on the Manhattan Project, and Franklin, who had become renowned for her work in X-ray crystallography in Paris. Wilkins had been working on X-ray diffraction, but when his work lagged, Randall assigned Rosalind Franklin and graduate student Raymond Gosling to study the structure of DNA by X-ray diffraction. Franklin was delayed in getting to Kings College in 1950 due to her work in France. When she arrived in 1951, Maurice Wilkins missed the meeting in which she was introduced as a colleague. That led to an important misunderstanding.

Franklin was under the impression that the X-ray diffraction was her project. Wilkins assumed, depending on the source, that either Franklin was working as his partner or as his assistant. Because of this difference of views, the two did not get along well. Franklin had long been patronized for being a woman scientist, and she preferred to work alone or with her assistant Gosling.

Watson and Crick began to suspect that DNA took a helical pattern, but were looking into the possibility of a triple-twist helix. Franklin had her doubts about a helix pattern at all, because her mathematical models did not support the theory, but she did not dismiss the possibility.

In May of 1952, Franklin and Gosling took a X-ray diffraction image that became known as "Photo 51." Gosling presented the photo to Wilkins as part of his graduate work. In January of 1953, Wilkins shared the picture, and some of Franklin's unpublished notes, with Watson and Crick, without Franklin's knowledge. Watson and Crick saw that Photo 51 held the secret that confirmed the double-helix model, and ran with it.

Franklin studied Photo 51 and independently saw the double-helix model in February of 1953. She and Gosling prepared a paper in March, and it appeared in the journal Nature along with Watson and Crick's announcement of the double-helix discovery in April of 1953. Wilkins also had an article on DNA structure in the same issue. Franklin was unaware of Watson and Crick's breakthrough before publication, but she accepted it, not knowing how her work contributed to it. She went on to Birkbeck College to work on viruses. While Franklin poured herself into new research, Watson and Crick were celebrated for the discovery of DNA.

Rosalind Franklin, born in 1920, received her bachelor's degree in chemistry from Cambridge University in 1941 and her Ph.D. in 1945. She worked constantly in the laboratory until she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1956. Franklin died in 1958 at age 37. There is speculation that her years of work with X-rays, during which she took little if any precaution against radiation, contributed to her death.

Comic by Kate Beaton of Hark! A Vagrant.

Franklin was not eligible for a Nobel in 1962 because they are never awarded posthumously. But when Crick, Watson, and Wilkins won the Nobel, none of them gave Franklin any credit for her contribution to the research. Interest in her work was ignited when James Watson published a memoir in 1968 called The Double Helix, in which he criticized Franklin's appearance and minimized her role in DNA research. During her life, Franklin had been a world-renowned chemist, virologist, and expert in crystallography within the scientific community. Then the backlash generated by Watson's book made Franklin a symbol of sexism in science, as the unsung hero of DNA research. Dr. Franklin would probably find that strange, but might possibly find it satisfying.

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13 Fantastic Museums You Can Visit for Free on Saturday
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On Saturday, September 23, museums and cultural institutions across the United States will open their doors to the public for free, as part of Smithsonian magazine’s annual Museum Day Live! event. Hundreds of museums are set to participate, ranging from world-famous institutions in major cities to tiny, local museums in small towns. While the full list of museums can be viewed, and tickets can be reserved, on the Smithsonian website, we’ve collected a small selection of the fantastic museums you can visit for free this Saturday.

1. NEWSEUM // WASHINGTON, D.C.

The Newseum in Washington, D.C. is an entire museum dedicated to the First Amendment. Celebrating freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition, the museum features exhibits on civil rights, the Berlin Wall, and the history of news media in America. Their latest special exhibitions take a look back at the event of September 11, 2001 and go inside the FBI's crime-fighting tactics.

2. INTREPID SEA, AIR & SPACE MUSEUM // NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK

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New York's Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum doesn’t just showcase America’s military and maritime history—it is a piece of that history. The museum itself is one of the Essex-class aircraft carriers built by the United States Navy during World War II. Visitors can explore its massive deck and interior, and view historic airplanes, a real World War II submarine, and a range of interactive exhibits. Normally, a ticket will set you back a whopping $33 (or $19 for New York City residents), but on Saturday, general admission is free with a Museum Day Live! ticket.

3. AUTRY MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN WEST // LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

Perfect for art lovers, history buffs, and cinephiles alike, the Autry Museum of the American West (named for legendary singing cowboy Gene Autry) offers up an eclectic mix of art, historical artifacts from the real American West, and Western film memorabilia and props.

4. MUSEUM OF ARTS AND SCIENCES // DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA

A massive art, science, and history museum located on a 90-acre nature preserve, the Museum of Arts and Sciences features the largest collection of Florida art anywhere in the world, as well as the largest collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia in all of Florida. Its diverse exhibits are alternately awe-inspiring, informative, and quirky, ranging from an exploration of 2000 years of sculpture art to an exhibition of 19th and 20th century advertising posters.

5. INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE HORSE AT THE KENTUCKY HORSE PARK // LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY

The International Museum of the Horse explores the history of—you guessed it!—the horse. That might sound like a narrow scope, but the museum doesn’t just display horse racing artifacts or teach you about modern horse breeds. Instead, it endeavors to tackle the 50-million-year evolution of the horse and its relationship with humans from ancient times to modern times.

6. THE PEGGY NOTEBAERT NATURE MUSEUM // CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Pete LaMotte, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The 160-year-old Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is pulling out all the stops for this year’s Museum Day Live! In addition to their vast exhibits of animal specimens and cultural artifacts, the museum will be hosting a live animal feeding and a butterfly release throughout the day.

7. OGDEN MUSEUM OF SOUTHERN ART // NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art aims to teach visitors about the rich culture and diverse visual arts of the American South. Right now, visitors can view a collection of William Eggleston's photographs and check out the museum's 10th annual invitational exhibition of ceramic teacups and teapots.

8. BALTIMORE MUSEUM OF INDUSTRY // BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

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Located in a 19th century oyster cannery on the Baltimore waterfront, the Baltimore Museum of Industry tells the story of American manufacturing from garment making to video game design. Visitors this weekend can meet video game designers and create custom games at the museum’s interactive “Video Game Wizards” exhibit.

9. SYLVAN HEIGHTS BIRD PARK // SCOTLAND NECK, NORTH CAROLINA

You can meet 2000 birds from around the world this weekend at the 18-acre Sylvan Heights Bird Park. Visitors to the massive garden can walk through aviaries displaying birds from every continent except Antarctica, including ducks, geese, swans, and exotic birds from all over the world.

10. DELTA BLUES MUSEUM // CLARKSDALE, MISSISSIPPI

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Visitors to the Delta Blues Museum can learn about the unique American musical art form in “the land where blues began,” with audiovisual exhibits centered on blues and rock legend Don Nix, as well as Paramount Records illustrator Anthony Mostrom.

11. NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NUCLEAR SCIENCE & HISTORY // ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO

America’s only congressionally chartered museum dedicated to the story of the Atomic Age, the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History features exhibits on everything from nuclear medicine to representations of atomic power in pop culture. Adult visitors to the museum will delight in its impressively nuanced take on nuclear technology, while kids will love the museum’s outdoor airplane exhibit and hands-on science activities at Little Albert’s Lab.

12. MUSEUM OF THE MOUNTAIN MAN // PINEDALE, WYOMING

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Dedicated to the mountain men who explored and settled Wyoming in the 19th century, the Museum of the Mountain Man brings American folklore and legends to life. The museum features exhibits on the Rocky Mountain fur trade and tells the story of American folk legend and famed mountain man Hugh Glass (the man Leonardo DiCaprio won an Oscar playing in 2015's The Revenant).

13. BESH BA GOWAH ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK AND MUSEUM // GLOBE, ARIZONA

Arizona’s Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park and Museum lets visitors connect with history firsthand. The museum is home to the ruins and artifacts of the Salado Indians who inhabited Arizona from the 13th century through the 15th century, and even lets visitors wander through an 800-year-old Salado pueblo.

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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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