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Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994)





Dorothy Hodgkin 

So, who was Dorothy Hodgkin?

Born in Cairo, Egypt on 12th May 1910 Dorothy was the eldest of the four daughters of John and Grace Crowfoot. Her father was an archaeologist and her mother an expert on Coptic textiles. Due to the nature of her father's job her parents travelled extensively and the girls saw them infrequently.

Dorothy and her sisters were left in England on many occasions. Her mother then decided to stay in England and to educate the children herself. Later Dorothy attended The Leman School at Beccles in Suffolk for her secondary education.

What did Dorothy do after leaving school?

In 1928 Dorothy went up to Oxford, where she entered Somerville College in 1928. She had chosen to read chemistry, a subject not normally studied by women at this time and was awarded her B.A. degree in 1932.

In 1933 she commenced her doctoral studies at the University of Cambridge with J D Bernal. She became involved in recording the first X-ray diffraction pattern from a protein crystal.

In 1934, she returned to Oxford where she was able to crystallise and X-ray photograph insulin. She believed that it was possible to determine the structure of insulin by working with an isomorphous crystal by replacing a single atom with a heavier one. She chose the zinc atom to do this.

In 1937 Dorothy was awarded her Cambridge Ph.D. She married Dr Thomas Hodgkin an expert on African affairs, the same year.

Dorothy Hodgkin worked on the structure of penicillin between 1942 and 1949. She was able to use the technique of X-ray diffraction to determine the structure. She asserted that the core of penicillin was made up of a ring of three carbon atoms and a nitrogen atom. Other scientists refuted this, but Dorothy's analysis proved she was correct.

For her work on penicillin she was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1947.

From 1948 until 1956, Dorothy Hodgkin worked at Oxford and Cambridge and was a fellow and chemistry tutor at Somerville College, Oxford. One of her ex-students was Margaret Roberts, who as Margaret Thatcher, went on to become the British Prime Minister in 1979.

In 1955 Dorothy Hodgkin took the first X-ray diffraction photographs of vitamin B-12.

In 1956 she was awarded the Royal Medal.

In 1958 she was made a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In 1964 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, for her work on vitamin B-12.

In 1965 she was presented with the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II.

In 1969 some 34 years after starting her research, she discovered the three-dimensional structure of the protein insulin.

In 1970 she became Chancellor of Bristol University, retiring in 1977. During that period, she was President of the International Union of Crystallography (1972-1978) and was made a member of the USSR Academy of Sciences (1976).

She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, which eventually crippled her hands and feet.

In July 1994, Dorothy Hodgkin died, as a result of a stroke, at her home in Shipston-on-Stour, England.