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The Woman Behind the First-Ever Photograph of DNA

Under-appreciated during her lifetime, physical chemist Rosalind E. Franklin’s mysterious and ground-breaking photograph helped transform the science of genetics.

The first image of a black hole, 2019. © Event Horizon Telescope collaboration et al.
The first image of a black hole, 2019.
© Event Horizon Telescope collaboration et al.

By Marvin Heiferman

After weeks of a well-orchestrated media build-up, the recent release of the first image of a black hole proved to be as stunning as promised. The minimalist image—depicting the gassy orange fumes of a Dunkin’ Donut–shaped celestial event, wrapped around a bottomless void of deep space—is spectacular and resonant with meaning. The emptiness at its center presents a powerful symbol of the malleability of time and space and the startlingly fragile nature of the present.

Among the fascinating aspects of the image is that much of the work in developing the algorithm that made its capture possible is credited to Dr. Katie Bouman, a twenty-nine-year-old scientist. Historically, women’s visibility and the proper crediting of their work has been a controversial issue in the sciences, but Bouman became Internet-famous as soon as the black hole image was released. Just as quickly, she became a victim of online trolling, as naysayers set out to undermine her contribution to the making of what is certain to be one of the twenty-first century’s most consequential images. This recalls another ground-breaking picture and woman, physical chemist Rosalind E. Franklin, who for most of the twentieth century was under-appreciated for her pioneering work in producing the X-ray diffraction “double helix” image of cell DNA, aka Photo 51, which helped transform the science of genetics.

In the following short essay, “The Story of Photo 51,” historian Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette, writes of Franklin’s 1952 accomplishment and her iconic image’s genesis and import. This essay appears in the forthcoming book, Seeing Science: How Photography Reveals the Universe by Marvin Heiferman (Aperture, Spring 2019).

Raymond G. Gosling and Rosalind E. Franklin, Photograph 51, 1952.© 2015, Linus Pauling and the Race for DNA, Special Collections & Archives Research Center, Oregon State University Libraries
Raymond G. Gosling and Rosalind E. Franklin, Photograph 51, 1952.© 2015, Linus Pauling and the Race for DNA, Special Collections & Archives Research Center, Oregon State University Libraries

Read on HERE >>> Source: Aperture Magazine The Woman Behind the First-Ever Photograph of DNA

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