The Woman Behind the First-Ever Photograph of DNA

  • 2019-05-01
  • Aperture

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

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.

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.

Under a microscope, cells reveal their own truths, possessing the potential to separate conception from context. By convention, science (which makes the invisible visible) renders the visualizer invisible.