But like many discoveries in academia, intellectual theft and envy played a role.
Scientists at England's Cambridge University, Francis Crick and James Watson, were in the process of determining the structure of DNA. Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins were researchers at King's College in London, working on X-ray crystallography. Wilkins was upset that his mentor had appointed Franklin to upgrade the lab for work on DNA.
Wilkins showed Franklin's DNA X-ray photographs to Crick and Watson without her knowledge. The photographs were the missing puzzle to their work; the X-ray showed that the structure of DNA consists of two strands spiraling around each other, which then split and become templates to pass on genetic codes.
Crick and Watson won a Nobel Prize for medicine in 1962 and shared it with Wilkins.
Franklin died in 1958 and never knew her contribution to biotechnology or society.