Photo 51 is an X-ray diffraction image of a paracristalline gel

Photo 51 – Wikipedia 4/6/20, 12:18 PM Page 1 of 4
Photo 51, showing x-ray
diffraction pattern of DNA
Photo 51
Photo 51 is an X-ray diffraction image of a paracristalline gel
composed of DNA fiber [1]) taken by Raymond Gosling,[2][3] a graduate
student working under the supervision of Rosalind Franklin in May
1952 at King’s College London, while working in Sir John Randall’s
group.[4][5][6][7] The image was tagged “photo 51” because it was the
51st diffraction photograph that Franklin and Gosling had taken.[8] It
was critical evidence[9] in identifying the structure of DNA.[10]
James Watson was shown the photo by his collaborator, Maurice
Wilkins, without Rosalind Franklin’s knowledge. Wilkins did this, as by
this time, Gosling had returned under his supervision, since Franklin
was leaving King’s and Randall had asked Gosling to share all his data with Wilkins.[11] Along with
Francis Crick, Watson used characteristics and features of Photo 51, together with evidence from
multiple other sources, to develop the chemical model of the DNA molecule. Their model, and
manuscripts by Wilkins and colleagues, and Gosling and Franklin, were first published, together, in
1953, in the same issue of Nature. In 1962, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to
Watson, Crick and Wilkins. The prize was not awarded to Franklin; she had died four years earlier,
and although there was not yet a rule against posthumous awards[12], the Nobel Committee generally
does not make posthumous nominations.[13] Likewise, Gosling’s work was not cited by the prize
The photograph provided key information that was essential for developing a model of DNA.[10][14]
The diffraction pattern determined the helical nature of the double helix strands (antiparallel). The
outside of the DNA chain has a backbone of alternating deoxyribose and phosphate moieties, and the
base pairs, the order of which provides codes for protein building and thereby inheritance, are inside
the helix. Watson and Crick’s calculations from Gosling and Franklin’s photography gave crucial
parameters for the size and structure of the helix.[14]
Photo 51 became a crucial data source[15] that led to the development of the DNA model and
confirmed the prior postulated double helical structure of DNA, which were presented in the series of
three articles in the journal Nature in 1953.
As historians of science have re-examined the period during which this image was obtained,
considerable controversy has arisen over both the significance of the contribution of this image to the
work of Watson and Crick, as well as the methods by which they obtained the image. Franklin had
been hired independently of Maurice Wilkins, who, taking over as Gosling’s new supervisor, showed
Use in discovering structure of DNA
Photo 51 – Wikipedia 4/6/20, 12:18 PM Page 2 of 4
Photo 51 to Watson and Crick without Franklin’s knowledge. Whether Franklin would have deduced
the structure of DNA on her own, from her own data, had Watson and Crick not obtained Gosling’s
image, is a hotly debated topic,[10][14][16][17] made more controversial by the negative caricature of
Franklin presented in the early chapters of Watson’s history of the research on DNA structure, The
Double Helix.[14][18][19] Watson admitted his distortion of Franklin in his book, noting in the
epilogue: “Since my initial impressions about [Franklin], both scientific and personal (as recorded in
the early pages of this book) were often wrong, I want to say something here about her
A 56-minute documentary DNA – Secret of Photo 51, was broadcast in 2003 on PBS NOVA.[21]
Narrated by Barbara Flynn, the program features interviews with Wilkins, Gosling, Aaron Klug,
Brenda Maddox,[22] including Franklin’s friends Vittorio Luzzati, Caspar, Anne Piper, and Sue
Richley.[23] The UK version produced by BBC is titled Rosalind Franklin: DNA’s Dark Lady.[24]
The first episode of a PBS documentary serial, DNA, which aired on 4 January 2004[25] as “The
Secret of Life”, centres on and features the contributions of Franklin. Narrated by Jeff Goldblum, it
features Watson, Wilkins, Gosling and Peter Pauling (son of Linus Pauling).[26]
A play entitled Photograph 51 by Anna Ziegler focuses on the role of x-ray crystallographer
Rosalind Franklin in the discovery of the structure of DNA.[27][28] This play won the 3rd STAGE
International Script Competition in 2008.[29] In 2015, the play was put on at London West End,
with Nicole Kidman playing Franklin.[30]
1. Franklin, R. E.; Gosling, R. G. (1953-09-10). “The structure of sodium thymonucleate fibres. I. The
influence of water content”. Acta Crystallographica. 6 (8): 673–677.
doi:10.1107/S0365110X53001939 (
2. “Due credit”. Nature. 496 (7445): 270. 18 April 2013. doi:10.1038/496270a (
8%2F496270a). PMID 23607133 (
3. Witkowski J (2019). “The forgotten scientists who paved the way to the double helix”. Nature. 568
(7752): 308–309. doi:10.1038/d41586-019-01176-9 (
4. Attar, N (2013). “Raymond Goslin: the man who crystallized genes” (
pmc/articles/PMC3663117). Genome Biology. 14 (4): 402. doi:10.1186/gb-2013-14-4-402 (https:// PMC 3663117 (
PMC3663117). PMID 23651528 (
5. “DNA: the King’s story” (
6. “Secret of Photo 51. Nova” ( PBS.
7. The gene: a historical perspective (
Greenwood Publishing Group. 2007. p. 85 (
age/85). ISBN 9780313334498. “PHOTO 51 rosalind franklin.”
Cultural references
Photo 51 – Wikipedia 4/6/20, 12:18 PM Page 3 of 4
age/85). ISBN 9780313334498. “PHOTO 51 rosalind franklin.”
8. “PastCast: The other DNA papers” ( 26
April 2019. “Raymond Gosling: ‘And the best structure B pattern we ever got is photo 51, which I
took and was called 51 because that was the 51st photograph that we’d taken, Rosalind and I, in
our efforts to sort out this A and B difference’.”
9. Krock, Lexi (22 April 2003). “Anatomy of Photo 51” (
html). NOVA online. PBS.
10. Watson, James D.; Crick, Francis (1953). “A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid” (https://web. (PDF).
Nature. 171 (4356): 737–738. Bibcode:1953Natur.171..737W (
953Natur.171..737W). doi:10.1038/171737a0 (
PMID 13054692 ( Archived from the original (http://w (PDF) on 2003-04-03.
11. Williams, Gareth (2019). Unravelling the Double Helix (
avelling_the_Double_Helix_The_Lost_He/CdeuDwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0). New York: Pegasus
Books. pp. 264–267. ISBN 978-1-64313-215-0.
12. “Nobel Prize Facts” ( Official Website of the Nobel
Prizes. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
13. “My aunt, the DNA pioneer” ( BBC News. 24
April 2003.
14. Maddox, Brenda (2002). Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA (
lindfranklin00madd). HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-393-32044-2.
15. “The instant I saw the picture my mouth fell open and my pulse began to race.” — James D.
Watson (1968), The Double Helix, page 167. New York: Atheneum, Library of Congress card
number 68-16217. Page 168 shows the X-shaped pattern of the B-form of DNA which provided
details of the helical structure of DNA to both scientists Watson and Crick.
16. Max Perutz and the Secret of Life. Published in the UK by Chatto & Windus (ISBN 0-7011-7695-
4), and in the USA by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.
17. Wilkins; Wilkins, M. (2003). The Third Man of the Double Helix, an autobiography. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
18. Watson, James D. (1980). The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure
of DNA (1968). Atheneum. ISBN 978-0-689-70602-8.
19. Sayre, Anne (1975). Rosalind Franklin and DNA (
). New York: W.W. Norton and Company. ISBN 978-0-393-32044-2.
20. Watson, James D. Gunther Stent (ed.). The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of
the Structure of DNA ( (1980 Norton Critical
ed.). W.W. Norton and Company. ISBN 978-0-393-95075-5.
21. “Secret of Photo 51” ( PBS. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
22. “NOVA: DNA – Secret of Photo 51 (2003)” (
-DNA-Secret-of-Photo-51/overview). The New York Times. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
23. “Secret of Photo 51 Transcript” (
PBS. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
24. “Rosalind Franklin: DNA’s Dark Lady (2003) (TV)” (
klin_DNAs_Dark_Lady_2003_TV). MoviesPictures.ORG. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
25. “Season 1, Episode 1 The Secret of Life” (
Photo 51 – Wikipedia 4/6/20, 12:18 PM Page 4 of 4
Retrieved from “”
This page was last edited on 21 March 2020, at 17:36 (UTC).
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. By using this site,
you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Wikipedia® is a registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., a
non-profit organization.
25. “Season 1, Episode 1 The Secret of Life” (
eason-1/the-secret-of-life/). TVGUIDE. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
26. “Episode 1: The Secret of Life” ( PBS. Retrieved
26 January 2015.
27. Kuchment, Anna (January 2011), “For Whom the Nobel Tolls: An evening out with James Watson
and colleagues”, Scientific American, Nature America, 304 (1), p. 27,
doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0111-27 (
28. Cox, Gordon (April 23, 2015). “Nicole Kidman to Star on West End in ‘Photograph 51’ ” (https://var Variety. Retrieved 25 August
29. “Ziegler’s Photograph 51 Wins STAGE International Script Competition” (
-ligphotograph-51l-ig-wins-stage). American Theater Web News. August 5, 2008. Archived from
the original (
graph-51l-ig-wins-stage) on 2015-09-27. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
30. Porteous, Jacob (24 April 2015). “Nicole Kidman Returns To The West End In Photograph 51” (htt
graph-51–Tickets-On-Sale-Now-.aspx). London Theatre Direct. Retrieved 27 October 2015.

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