We all know a few basic things about DNA — it can be extracted from fossilized mosquitoes to bring dinosaurs back to life, it can be altered by radioactive ooze in order to create ninja turtles, and it looks like a sort of twisty laddery thing called a "double helix."
Before 1953, we knew none of these indisputable scientific facts, and we owe it to dedicated physical chemist and pioneering x-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin. Born in London to a family of bankers and scholars, Franklin was an excellent student and active in the women's suffrage movement, and earned a PhD from Cambridge from her work on the porosity of coal, which may not have been the most interesting subject around but prepared her ably for the new technique of using x-ray crystallography on things that weren't actually crystals.
Her skill at this technique earned her a position as research assistant at King's College London, where she was tasked with accurately recording the structure of DNA and being a meek, pleasant, helpful woman. Franklin delivered excellent results with the DNA — her famous "Photo 51" was the (mostly uncredited) linchpin of James Watson & Francis Crick's articles establishing the double helix theory — but refused to be cowed by her chauvinist colleagues, once becoming so angry at Watson's condescending suggestion that she had misinterpreted his own data that he practically tripped over fellow researcher Maurice Wilkins. Wilkins, Watson, and Crick would receive the Nobel Prize in 1962 for "their" discovery, but Franklin was barred — the rules forbade posthumous nominations, and she had passed in 1958 at the age of 37 from ovarian cancer.
Even at the disease’s peak, Rosalind Franklin was still an active researcher, lending her considerable skills to the study of the polio virus.