DNA – The Secret of Photo 51

Photo 51The NOVA video The Secret of Photo 51 is a resource that I like to use near the beginning of our study of DNA when we are learning about the structure of DNA. It is a good introduction to the work that went on in discovering the structure of DNA and also gets into ‘What Scientists Do.’

Brief summary of the video:

The Secret of Photo 51 takes us into post-World War II Europe where the race to determine the structure of DNA was heating up. The video describes what Watson and Crick were doing, but focuses on their ‘unknowing collaborator’ Rosalind Franklin. She was using X-ray diffraction techniques to analyze the structure of DNA. It is said that without knowledge of her unpublished work Watson and Crick would not have been able to determine the structure of DNA.

In addition to discussing DNA structure, the following topics become good discussions with this video:

  • What scientists do – the fact that in science your success is measured by what you can publish in scientific journals, and funding for your work is provided based on both your past work and your ideas
  • How life has changed for women scientists – Rosalind Franklin was not treated well, or as an equal, by the men that she was working with at the time
  • Scientific press vs. popular press (in terms of Watson’s book)
  • The Nobel Prize – I like to describe it as winning the Superbowl of science!

The video is 1 hour long and is available through the PBS store or your library. For more information about the film visit the PBS website: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/photo51/

I have created a video guide with questions for students to fill in as they watch this film.  If you are interested in the handout it is available through my Teacher Pay Teachers store by clicking here:  http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/DNA-The-Secret-of-Photo-51-Video-Worksheet