Sunday, April 25, 2021


Happy Sunday everyone. Hope your weekend is going well.

My page today for Art Journal Journey  and this month's Inspired By theme is to celebrate one of the other hats I wear. That is my biologist side.

Today is DNA day, the day back in in 1953 when the 4 scientists who worked on discovering the structure of DNA published their papers in the scientific journal Nature.

My journal page was made with some new Paper Artsy stamps that are DNA like with the double helix shape (spiral staircase-twisted ladder shape) and the base pairs in the middle. I stamped them in pink and black, and then I stamped in green the letters of the chemicals that form the steps of the ladders, known as the base pairs. You can see the AT and CG combinations in green. I also added a bit of washi tape with some stitching on it, because DNA stitches itself together in a way, and I also added a bit from an old illustrated science dictionary. The 4 Janet Klein figures represent the 4 people involved in DNA's structure discovery, and the Marie Curie quote is from another Paper Artsy set, even though she personally never worked on DNA.

The story of DNA's discovery is one for the annals of thief, acclaim and human nature not always at its best.
I used to always share this story with my kids at school, but since this year there are no kids at school, I will share it with you. It is a bit of a read. Sorry about that.  Maybe you will be interested or have the time to read it. I assure you this is a very condensed version as most of the people involved have written long books about this. If not, I enjoyed writing this.

The Background:
This story has  2 sets of characters. I need to briefly explain them first. The 2 people on the left on my page are Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins. 

Rosalind Franklin  was a distinguished British researcher and crystallographer. Crystallography is a technique used to get x-ray photos of microscopic items, such a molecules. It uses x-rays to make images on film. Franklin had been working in Paris and had become one of the best crystallographers in the world when she decided to move back to England. She took a job at King's College in London to work with DNA.
Maurice Wilkins was also at King's College working with DNA. He was away on holiday when Franklin arrived. Somehow, roles were never clear and Franklin believed she was in charge of the DNA research. When Wilkins returned and saw that Franklin was doing what he believed was his own job, there were a lot of not so nice feelings.

The 2 people on the right of my page are Francis Crick and James D. Watson. Crick was at the Cavendish Laboratory, a part of Cambridge University, working on an advanced degree. Watson, an American, came to the Cavendish on a fellowship and ended up sharing an office with Crick. Those 2 hit it off and were great office mates.

The Events:
Here's were things start to get complicated.

Watson  was one of those extremely bright people who was working on advanced work. He had earned his PhD at age 22 in the states and still at a very young age, went onto to do some advance work at the Cavendish. He believed (rightly so) that anyone who discovered the secret of the gene would be set for life.  He managed to get Crick onboard, even though Crick was still working on hemoglobin structure for his PhD thesis. So Watson and Crick began to work on building a model of DNA.

Their methods were a bit different from the usual. Instead of doing research and using their own data, they used information from many other people's research. They found a lot of information that way, but they still didn't know the shape of DNA.

There's another plot twist.  Crick and Wilkins, although they worked at different universities, were friends. Wilkins was not happy to come back from his holiday and discover his DNA research was now being run by Rosalind Franklin. He called her secretive as well as a few other things. Most likely, based on what I have read and seen about her, she wanted her research to be thorough and complete before she shared it.  She wanted plenty of data to back up her conclusions.  She didn't think of Wilkins as her boss since they were equally qualified scientists, and so, why should she share when nothing was complete? 

The lab of Kings College London, where Franklin was researching, was also not very welcoming to women. She must have been very unhappy with her environment, but very happy with her research.  

Watson met Wilkins through his friendship with Crick. He was warned by Wilkins about Franklin's unfriendly character. Watson went to see Franklin to try to get her on board, but she snapped at him and he went away afraid of her. At least that is how Watson described it in his 1960's bestseller The Double Helix.

Photo 51:

Maurice Wilkins on the left, Photo 51 in the middle, and Rosalind Franklin on the right

OK, I'm going to skip some things and leave out some important people (just to get to the point) and jump to photo 51. Rosalind Franklin took this photo (her 51st) with  x-ray crystallography that proved DNA was a double helix, that twisted ladder shaped structure that I stamped on my page. The photo proves that DNA is a twisted ladder/ double helix because of the X shape. Picture standing on the top of a spiral ladder and looking down on the ladder. You would see an X shaped structure, with a point where the 2 sides of the ladder cross each other as they twist. That point where they cross is the center of the X in the photo. Each of the 2 arms of the X (the one going left to right and the one going right to left) would each be a strand. You can even count how many steps would be in each single twist of the DNA from this photo, but let me get on with the story.

Franklin thought she had filed the photo away with her other research notes, but somehow, the photo made its way to her co-worker Maurice Wilkins. Franklin didn't know about this. I don't think Wilkins actually stole the photo, but there were graduate students working in the labs, and one of them probably went to show it to Wilkins.

Wilkins showed the photo to Watson. Watson took notes and went back to Cambridge and shared the info with Crick.

That was all Crick and Watson needed to start building their model. 

Watson and Crick felt that finding the structure of DNA was something they needed to do quickly. There were other scientists working on this same problem in other places. One of them was a very distinguished chemist named Linus Pauling in California.

Linus' son Peter came to the Cavendish on a research fellowship also. Therefore Watson and Crick were learning information about his father's research from him. Linus Pauling tried making a bigger helix than the yet to be discovered 2 stranded one, but knowing this made Watson feel that he and Crick really had to charge forward to beat Linus Pauling to the "prize" (the actual structure of DNA).

The Model:

This is a very famous photo of Watson (left) and Crick (right) with their finished model.

At this time Franklin had made plans to leave Kings College to go to another research facility. She first wanted to finish her research. Wilkins, while talking to Watson and Crick, said as soon as Franklin was gone the 3 of them could start working on the model.

Watson didn't want to wait for Franklin to leave. Now that he had seen photo 51, he and Crick got permission to start building their own model. (This was actually their second attempt because the first model they tried was  checked by Rosalind Franklin herself,  and she said it couldn't happen. She was that qualified that her word meant the model was wrong.)

So Watson and Crick built their model, and Franklin, unaware that Watson had seen her photo, went to check  out this latest model. She said that  it all matched what she had found in her research. Many other scientists also agreed. 

So Watson and Crick had built the model of the structure of DNA.
In order that everyone involved could get some credit, the scientific  journal Nature agreed to publish 3 articles on this day in 1953. Watson and Crick wrote one, Wilkins wrote a second about his research, and Rosalind Franklin wrote the third about her research. 

This is only half of the story however. 
I'll be back to share the rest of it with you on Wednesday.

Enjoy what's left to your weekend and the start of the new week.



Iris Flavia said...

DNA... genes. Hubby is sick (hopefully only) today. It´s in the genes.
Pancreas. Mother and Father´s Mother suffered from this. I only I had known this earlier...
Glad we know a lot about this, though!

Again. I have to say this over and over again... Why? Why did our teachers not teach us interesting details like this?!
It´s not only about discovery but also about how we (should) interact.

Looking forward to Wednesday!
See, I had one... ONE teacher (English) who made learning fun.
Thank you - and have a nice Sunday/new week.

kathyinozarks said...

Good morning Erika, this was very interesting and I loved your page Happy new week hugs Kathy

nwilliams6 said...

Very, very interesting story. DNA is the coolest. Love the new DNA stamps and love the people images too. WONDERFUL page, Erika. Hugz

Valerie-Jael said...

This is a most interesting post, thanks for taking the time to make it. And your journal pages are fabulous, as are the stamps you used. Have a happy Sunday and a great, new week,hugs, Valerie

Divers and Sundry said...

I didn't know about DNA Day, but I remember some of what I learned about DNA is Biology classes, and that's knowledge that I have used through the years. I had forgotten all the history, though, so this was fascinating. Thanks! I look forward to reading more :)

Neet said...

In half an hour I will be watching a nail biting episode of a drama on tv that probably has half the nation watching. Very popular crime drama. Now you have left me in the same position with this story of DNA and I have to wait until Wednesday for the next episode. My nails will be down to the quick at this rate Erika.
I had no idea about this story, something we were never taught at school but this little bit of human interest must have held your students and created a sense of learning within them. Well done you and what a lovely journal page too.
Love those PaperArtsy stamps, I must look them up as I haven't seen them before. I do have Crick, Watson and Wilkins but still have to buy Franklin for my collection.
Thanks for the history behind DNA. I think my other half will enjoy this.
Hugs, Neet xx

Annie said...

What a great post with a fabulous journal page to go along with your lesson on the discovery of DNA! I know all of nothing about this and I was enthralled reading your lesson/story. Then it came to the part...TO BE CONTINUED. Aaarghh! I’m old. By Wednesday I’m going to have to start it all over again. Ha! WOW, a really great journal page and those characters are fabulous. I love how you’ve organized your page and your story. See you on Wednesday!

CJ Kennedy said...

Interesting story. Watson and Crick I’ve heard of, but I never heard of Rosalind Franklin. Linus Pauling won the Nobel in Chemistry for his discovery of the structure of DNA which Watson and Crick used to build their model. At least according to Himself, the Chemist. looking forward to more of the story.

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

Wow and now I have learned something and very interesting told, Erika. It’s always good when fellow bloggers share knowledge and know looking forward to the continuation.

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

I actually learned about DNA, the double helix, and the race to win the Nobel that Watson and Crick eventually won/were presented in grad school. Certainly fascinating. Really enjoying the story, too. It's always good to read it from another's perspective. Thanks, too for sharing this with Art Journal Journey honoring Eileen's theme.

R's Rue said...


Jeanie said...

I love this piece, Erika. So many layers and great detail. And I really appreciated your telling the story on this one. I knew a VERY little and this really has amped both my knowledge and interest in the topic. I'm guessing you saw the Ken Burns show "The Gene" last week. I missed half of it but will watch on demand of PBS Passport.

More to the story -- I'll look forward to it!

craftytrog said...

A fabulous post and page to celebrate DNA Day Erika! xx

pearshapedcrafting said...

I love your page - still to show my figures some ink!! The story of the discovery of the nature of DNA is fascinating and I will definitely be back on Wednesday! Hugs, Chrisx