On 6 May 1952, at King’s College London in London, England, Rosalind Franklin photographed her fifty-first X-ray diffraction pattern of deoxyribosenucleic acid, or DNA. Photograph 51, or Photo 51, revealed information about DNA’s three-dimensional structure by displaying the way a beam of X-rays scattered off a pure fiber of DNA. Franklin took Photo 51 after scientists confirmed that DNA contained genes. Maurice Wilkins, Franklin’s colleague showed James and Francis Crick Photo 51 without Franklin’s knowledge. Watson and Crick used that image to develop their structural model of DNA. In 1962, after Franklin’s death, Watson, Crick, and Wilkins shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their findings about DNA. Franklin’s Photo 51 helped scientists learn more about the three-dimensional structure of DNA and enabled scientists to understand DNA’s role in heredity.

In April 1953, Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling, published “Molecular Configuration in Sodium Thymonucleate,” in the scientific journal Nature. The article contained Franklin and Gosling’s analysis of their X-ray diffraction pattern of thymonucleate or deoxyribonucleic acid, known as DNA. In the early 1950s, scientists confirmed that genes, the heritable factors that control how organisms develop, contained DNA. However, at the time scientists had not determined how DNA functioned or its three-dimensional structure. In their 1953 paper, Franklin and Gosling interpret X-ray diffraction patterns of DNA fibers that they collected, which show the scattering of X-rays from the fibers. The patterns provided information about the three-dimensional structure of the molecule. “Molecular Configuration in Sodium Thymonucleate” shows the progress Franklin and Gosling made toward understanding the three-dimensional structure of DNA.

William Thomas Astbury studied the structures of fibrous materials, including fabrics, proteins, and deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, in England during the twentieth century. Astbury employed X-ray crystallography, a technique in which scientists use X-rays to learn about the molecular structures of materials. Astbury worked at a time when scientists had not yet identified DNA’s structure or function in genes, the genetic components responsible for how organisms develop and reproduce. He was one of the first scientists to use X-ray crystallography to study the structure of DNA. According to historians, Astbury helped establish the field of molecular biology as he connected microscopic changes in the structure of materials to changes in their large-scale properties. Astbury and his images helped scientists to understand the structure of DNA and its role in genetics.

In February 1953, Linus Pauling and Robert Brainard Corey, two scientists working at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, proposed a structure for deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, in their article “A Proposed Structure for the Nucleic Acids,” henceforth “Nucleic Acids.” In the article, Pauling and Corey suggest a model for nucleic acids, including DNA, that consisted of three nucleic acid strands wound together in a triple helix. “Nucleic Acids” was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shortly after scientists came to the consensus that genes, the biological factors that control how organisms develop, contained DNA. Though scientists proved Pauling and Corey’s model incorrect, “Nucleic Acids” helped scientists understand DNA’s structure and function as genetic material.

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