Since it is International Day of Women and Girls in Science I thought I would stick to this theme and publish two articles today. The latest Mars rover that was built in the U.K has been named after Rosalind Franklin. She is famously known because of her involvement in the discovery of DNA.
The name of the rover was unveiled by Astronaut Tim Peake at the Airbus factory in Stevenage in the U.K. Originally known as the ExoMars rover, the new name – Franklin rover – was chosen by European Space Agency Member States in a competition that was launched by the UK Space Agency in July 2018. A whopping 36,000 responses were received from across Europe. This Mars rover is hoped to travel to the Red Planet in July/August of 2020 and search for clues of life both past and present on Mars. With Franklin being a molecular biologist, it deemed the name quite fitting for the rover. This is not the first time that the European Space Agency have named their rovers after famous scientists. Newton, Euclid, and Planck are just some of the names of previous rovers.
So, why Franklin? Rosalind Franklin played a pivotal role in the discovery of DNA. She used x-ray crystallography to produce images that lead to the first 3D model of DNA. Essentially, x-rays were shone at DNA fibres and diffracted or ‘spread out’, forming a pattern when imaged. With this image, you can essentially, reverse the x-rays in time and see what caused the pattern. From there, you can infer the structure of the target that caused the image. This was how the first interpretation of the structure of DNA was found in the time of Franklin. Unfortunately for Franklin, she missed out on being awarded a Nobel Prize because of her death in 1958. The Nobel Prize was awarded instead to her co-researchers: Crick, Watson, and Wilkins in 1962.
The Franklin rover is hoped to scout the Martian surface with next-generation technology and relay the data to our Home Planet via the Trace Gas Orbiter. It is hoped that engineers working on the Franklin rover will have their first robot by July. Watch this space.