LISTEN: “Photograph 51” Introduces Us to the Oft-Overlooked Mother of DNA

Move over, Watson and Crick! It’s time to tell the story of Rosalind Franklin, the often-overlooked X-ray crystallographer who helped discover the double helix structure of DNA.

L.A. Theatre Works—founded by lifelong feminist and theater producer Susan Loewenberg—produces audio productions of famous plays with household-named entertainment figures.

Last week, we provided one of these audio theater performances, SEVEN—which tells the true stories of seven women who bravely fought for the well-being of women, families and children around the globe.

This week’s audio performance is of Photograph 51—the award-winning play by Anna Ziegler about ambition, isolation and the race for greatness.

Anna Ziegler’s biographical drama about the scientist Rosalind Franklin is rich, complex, averse to melodramatic heroes and existentially moving: DNA is, after all, the key to life itself.

— The Chicago Tribune

Listen to the entire play here—and read more about it below!

London, 1953. Scientists are on the verge of discovering what they call the secret of life: the DNA double helix. Providing the key is Rosalind Franklin, a driven young physicist.

But if the double helix was the breakthrough of the 20th century, then what kept Franklin out of the history books?

According to LA Theatre Works:

Rosalind Franklin was a gifted research scientist who was part of the race to uncover the secrets of DNA in the 1950’s. Her more famous contemporaries Watson and Krick took all the kudos for the discovery of the molecule’s double helix structure—yet it was Franklin’s skill with X-ray diffraction that first uncovered what’s called “the secret of life.”

Includes interviews with Brenda Maddox, the world’s foremost biographer of Rosalind Franklin and author of Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA and Dr. Pamela Björkman, the Max Delbruck Professor of Biology at the California Institute of Technology, and an Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.


Roxanne Szal (or Roxy) is the managing digital editor at Ms. and a producer on the Ms. podcast On the Issues With Michele Goodwin. She is also a mentor editor for The OpEd Project. Before becoming a journalist, she was a Texas public school English teacher. She is based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter @roxyszal.