Nova (Television program). [2003-04-22], Secret of Photo 51. Web Site


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Created: 2011

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Nova (Television program). [2003-04-22], Secret of Photo 51. Web Site
Summary: "April 2003 marked the 50th anniversary of one of science's great milestones--the discovery of the famous double-helix structure of DNA. Biologists James Watson and Francis Crick won lasting fame for this decoding of life's essential molecular 'cookbook.' While the anniversary has been widely celebrated, NOVA chose to focus on a neglected and controversial aspect of the story. Watson and Crick's discovery would have been impossible without the work of a brilliant molecular biologist and crystallographer named Rosalind Franklin. Her stunning X-ray photo of the DNA molecule was shown--without her permission--to James Watson, and this image, together with an unpublished report of Franklin's work, gave Watson and Crick the vital breakthrough they needed to solve the structure of the double helix. In the discovery of the century, Franklin became an unknowing and unrecognized collaborator. When Watson and Crick were awarded a Nobel Prize for their achievement in 1962, Franklin's name wasn't even mentioned. Tragically, she had died four years earlier of cancer, at the age of 37.

"NOVA's 'Secret of Photo 51' presented Rosalind Franklin's powerful and moving life story for the first time on television. The program dramatizes the dedication and drive that took her to the heights of scientific achievement despite the scorn and neglect of her male colleagues. With the help of experts such as Brenda Maddox, author of the recent acclaimed biography of Franklin, NOVA tracked down Franklin's intimate friends and associates from her schoolgirl days, through her happiest period as a carefree young researcher in Paris, to her fruitful but fraught years investigating DNA in London. The program sets the record straight and reveals a very different personality than hitherto known. When James Watson wrote his best-selling memoir, The Double Helix, he caricatured Rosalind Franklin as 'Rosy--' a frumpy, hostile, and introverted personality incapable of the collaborative relationships and conceptual leaps essential for solving the DNA riddle. In NOVA's film, many of Franklin's colleagues remember a lively, sociable, and brilliant woman. Some of the warmest tributes in the film come from Nobel laureate Aaron Klug, a close collaborator who has studied her notebooks for clues about what she knew and didn't know about the structure of DNA at the time of Watson and Crick's work. Klug makes the point that even without her unsung contribution to unraveling DNA, Franklin's later landmark studies of virus structure would assure her reputation.

"Through eyewitness accounts, replication of 1950's experiments, and subtle re-enactments that evoke the period, NOVA tells the story of a brilliant young woman who was important not only for what she achieved but as a tragic symbol of the 'glass ceiling' still faced by women scientists as they compete for recognition and status."--2003 Peabody Awards entry form.

Corporate Producers: Providence Pictures, Inc. | British Broadcasting Corporation | WGBH (Television station : Boston, Mass.) | France 5 (Firm) | Multimedia France Productions | Centre national de la cinématographie (France)

Broadcast Date: 2003