THE BLOG

Now That Nicole Kidman Is Playing Her, My Great Aunt's Rosalind's Name Is Being Heard Everywhere

15/09/2015 17:57 BST | Updated 15/09/2016 10:12 BST

My great aunt, Rosalind Franklin's name is being heard quite a lot recently, due to the opening of the West End production Photograph 51 with Nicole Kidman playing her - but she has always been a presence in my life.

Running across my primary school science classroom was a huge double helix made out of paper. Alongside this was a quote: 'It's not magic, it's science!' These were the products of the extraordinary enthusiasm my teacher Miss Bilderbeck had for science and in particular, the work of my great aunt Rosalind.

I always knew that I had a 'famous' relative, who was a scientist from what my family told me, but Miss Bilderbeck was the first person that sparked my interest in science and widened my knowledge of Rosalind's work. Clearly her enthusiasm was infectious and has stuck with me ever since. 

As a result, I was probably the only child of my age that made potions (to my mother's dismay) out of toiletries, tried to make explosions, and watched surgery programmes on TV. I never considered myself the scientist type, however. It wasn't until I turned 13, when I decided that becoming a famous musician was unlikely and I decided I wanted to become a doctor instead.

Over the next five years through GCSEs and A levels I learned more and more about Rosalind. My A level Biology teacher gave me a copy of a BBC production about the 'race for the double helix' starring Juliette Stevenson as Rosalind. Older members of my family who knew Rosalind tell me this is an incredibly accurate portrayal of her. 

I wasn't fortunate enough to meet Rosalind, as she died in 1958 (five years after the landmark discovery of the double helical structure of DNA) when my Dad, her nephew, was seven. She was very close to his dad, who also died quite young. He has a few memories but a lot of memories that were fed to him through his dad and his other aunts and uncles. But he's got photos of when he was very young with her. Rosalind had a great sense of humour.

It has always been made clear to me that her work has had a profound impact on so many. My understanding and appreciation of my Aunt has been achieved for me by my family, my teachers and most recently Professor Louise Serpell, who will be supervising my research project as I enter my final year of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Sussex. 

Until the publicity over the West End play not many people know who Rosalind was, unless they're academics or may recognise her name from a GCSE biology textbook, so I've never really discussed my famous relative with many people. It was quite cool to see her picture on my first ever lecture at university, even though nobody else understood my pride at the time. I eventually told my academic advisor, who shared the information with my now research project supervisor.

Now, with Nicole Kidman playing her, Rosalind's name is being heard everywhere. Because of this, I have been asked the question 'How did Rosalind inspire you and influence your decision to become a scientist?"

The answer is, of course she has, but through the enthusiasm that she has engendered through the likes of Miss Bilderbeck and Professor Serpell.

I'm really excited to be going to see the play in a few weeks along with 13 others from Rosalind's family!