Photograph 51 Ensures the Life of DNA Pioneer Rosalind Franklin is Not Forgotten

Olivia Swasey and Alric Davis in Photograph 51.
Olivia Swasey and Alric Davis in Photograph 51. Photo by Jennifer Decker

She was only 37 when she died in 1958, but before that, British chemist Rosalind Franklin performed crucial work advancing our knowledge of DNA and its molecular structure. Largely forgotten by history and never nominated for a Nobel Prize, she left a legacy of scientific curiosity and rigor that was carried on by her fellow researchers.

She achieved all this at a time when it was tough to be a female in the field of science, a subject she had excelled in since her earliest years. The daughter of an affluent Jewish family, Franklin got her degree from Cambridge and later worked in Paris where she learned X-ray diffraction techniques that she would employ in her DNA research.

Now Franklin and her short life are getting their due in the play Photograph 51, written by playwright Anna Ziegler and presented by The Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center with Jennifer Decker, founder of Mildred's Umbrella, directing. 

Scientists around the world were racing to map out how the DNA molecule was put together, moving from a single helix to the eventual conclusion that it was a double helix. Photograph 51 refers to one of the several X-ray photos Franklin took of DNA  that was crucially important to understanding it. .

In a press releases, Decker wrote "“In a time when sexist attitudes made it very difficult for a woman to even become a scientist, Rosalind Franklin persevered, and the mysteries she unveiled in her research were instrumental in the discovery of DNA, yet she never received credit for it in her lifetime.

“Her work with radiation possibly led to her early death from cancer, so it could be said that she literally gave her life to the advancement of science. I am thrilled to be a part of bringing this compelling story to Houston audiences, and I'm grateful to the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC for allowing me to be a part of telling it.”

Cast members include Olivia Swasey, Ryan Kelly, Alric Davis, Jason Duga, Ian Lewis and Calvin Hudson.

Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. on April 20, 22 and 29; 2 p.m. April 23 and noon on April 30 at the Joe Frank Theatre of the Arts, 5601 Braeswood. For more information, call 713-729-3200 or visit $20-$25.
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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