In amongst all the intellectual giants that have inhabited the world of science and technology, there are those equally worthy of recognition, but haven’t received it for one reason or another. One such scientist is Rosalind Franklin, who contributed groundbreaking work to one of our most important fields, yet was sadly struck down by ovarian cancer at the young age of just 37. In her short life, however, the work she did was fundamental to our understanding of the natural world.

We’ve all heard of DNA, but it’s famous ‘double-helix structure, wasn’t confirmed until an x-ray crystallographic image was taken of it in the early 1950’s. Franklin also applied the technique to virology, coal, and RNA, building up an impressive body of work before her untimely death. It’s believed she would have been awarded a Nobel Prize for Chemistry for the work, but the Nobel Committee rarely gives posthumous awards, and she missed out.

The coin depicts a reproduction of a period-printed Photograph 51, the 51st photo taken by Franklin and Raymond Gosling – the one which so strongly hinted at the structure of DNA. Even the designer has admitted the difficulty of reproducing the original on a coin, but it does a good job. Her name, inscribed vertically and forming the first two letters of DNA with the last letters of her name, is an excellent touch.

Three precious metal versions on offer. A 22kt gold of half-ounce weight sits at the top, with sterling silver coins of 8 grams and 16 grams, the latter a piedfort. Standard Royal Mint packaging, which is decent enough, and availability from today. In a nice touch, the mint has given Jenifer Glynn, sister of Rosalind Franklin, a Silver Proof coin in celebration of what would have been Rosalind’s 100th birthday and also ‘in recognition of her sister’s exceptional dedication and revolutionary discovery in determining the structure of DNA’. Great to see such unheralded scientists given some wider exposure, as a coin is great at doing.

MINTS DESCRIPTION

The Royal Mint continues its Innovation in Science series with the launch of a commemorative 50p coin celebrating what would have been Rosalind Franklin’s 100th birthday and has been produced in collaboration with King’s College London where Franklin’s DNA research took place. Best known today for her research into DNA, Franklin was a world authority on the three-dimensional structure of viruses, as well as coal and graphite. The Royal Mint celebrates not only what would have been her 100th Birthday but also Franklin’s tireless dedication and contribution to the revolutionary discovery of the structure of DNA with this commemorative 50p coin.

Born in London on 25 July 1920, Rosalind Franklin attended and excelled at St Paul’s Girls’ School and was determined to become a scientist. In 1938, Franklin fulfilled her childhood ambition, taking up a place at Newnham College, Cambridge, to study Natural Sciences, specialising in Chemistry. In 1947 Franklin started a new job at the Laboratoire Central des Services Chimiques de L’État in Paris. Continuing her research into coal and graphite, Franklin became an expert in X-ray crystallography. A few years later Franklin joined the Medical Research Council Biophysics Research Unit at King’s College London, applying these techniques to DNA. It was in May 1952 that Franklin and Raymond Gosling successfully produced Photograph 51 by shining an X-ray beam for more than 60 hours at right angles onto a sample of DNA fibres; from this image a three-dimensional model of DNA could be determined.

Rosalind Franklin’s brilliant mind and tireless dedication enabled breakthroughs in multiple fields. Tragically Franklin passed away from ovarian cancer aged just 37, denying her the awards and recognition that would surely have come during her lifetime.

David Knapton, designer of the Rosalind Franklin 50p coin said, “A straight replication of Photograph 51 wouldn’t have worked on a coin, so I decided to reflect the printing techniques of the era. To restore Franklin’s rightful role, it was important to include her name. Adding an A to a third column to line up with the last letters of Rosalind and Franklin to spell DNA felt like a small ‘penny drop’ moment. I can only imagine how Franklin felt when she made her breakthrough discovery.”

Clare Maclennan, Divisional Director of Commemorative Coin at The Royal Mint said, “We are delighted to be continuing our ‘Innovation in Science’ series with a second coin celebrating what would have been Rosalind Franklin’s 100th birthday. Using printing techniques from the era of Franklin’s work, the coin’s design captures the graphic representation of Photograph 51, arguably one of the most important images in biological science demonstrating the double helix structure of DNA. This commemorative 50p coin is truly a fitting tribute to a scientist who was instrumental in enabling one of the greatest discoveries of the twentieth century.”

President and Principal of King’s College London, Professor Ed Bryne said: “As a pioneering scientist at King’s College London in 1952, Rosalind Franklin captured ‘Photo 51’ – the world’s most important photograph revealing the secret structure of the DNA molecule which governs heredity. I am delighted that today she has been formally recognised for her ground breaking and wide-ranging work which has allowed and inspired generations of students, scientists and physicists at King’s and beyond to delve deeper into biophysics, human heredity and to develop treatments for genetic diseases. This coin represents the broader societal recognition she so richly deserves.”

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SPECIFICATION
DENOMINATION £0.5 UKP £0.5 UKP £0.5 UKP
COMPOSITION 0.9167 gold 0.925 silver 0.925 silver
WEIGHT 15.50 grams 16.0 grams 8.0 grams
DIMENSIONS 27.30 mm 27.30 mm 27.30 mm
FINISH Proof Proof Proof
MINTAGE 250 1,500 3,500
EDGE TEXT None None None
R.R.P. £1,075.00 £95.00 £55.00