Rosalind Franklin was a contemporary of Watson and Crick, who were latecomers to the search for DNA’s structure. Building off of others’ works, but without a solid grounding in chemistry, the duo made some early incorrect guesses as to DNA’s structure, which were thoroughly shot down by Franklin.
Wilkins (her partner) secretly handed over some of Franklin’s work to Watson and Crick without her permission. The rest is history. Without her knowledge, Watson and Crick used her work – primarily “Photo 51,” a diffraction result demonstrating the helical nature of DNA – to rush out a paper, and won the Nobel Prize for “the most important scientific discovery of the 20th century.”
Franklin, who had perhaps been three months away from solving the problem herself, remained unaware of their usage of Photo 51 for the rest of her tragically short lifewhich. After some brief work on the tobacco mosaic virus, she died of ovarian cancer, possibly brought on from her work with X-rays. She was 39.