Dorothy Hodgkin

(1910—1994) chemist and crystallographer

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British chemist noted for her work on the structures of penicillin, vitamin B\1\2, and zinc insulin. She was the first British woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1964) and in 1965 she was appointed to the OM.

Dorothy Crowfoot was born in Egypt, as her father worked in the Egyptian Ministry of Education, and was educated at Somerville College, Oxford. After graduating in 1932, she spent two years as a research student at Cambridge under J. D. Bernal before returning to Oxford in 1934; she spent most of her career there, first as a fellow of Somerville, from 1960 until 1977 as Wolfson Research Professor of the Royal Society, and as a fellow of Wolfson College (1977–82). She was also Chancellor of Bristol University (1970–88). In 1937 she married Thomas Hodgkin (1910–82), the distinguished Africanist; the couple had three children and campaigned together in many political battles. Despite the demands of her family and her politics, Dorothy Hodgkin managed to lead a scientific career noted both for its productivity and its creativity.

The most decisive intellectual influence on Hodgkin was undoubtedly J. D. Bernal. When she joined him he was just beginning to explore the possibility of determining the three-dimensional structure of such complex biological molecules as proteins. The most talented of the group he was building up was Dorothy Hodgkin. The work involved much patience and enormous effort; for example, the elucidation of the structure of insulin was only completed in the 1970s. Her first major breakthrough came in 1949, when she published the structure of penicillin; it was followed in 1956 with the structure of vitamin B\1\2. It was for these two latter achievements that Dorothy Hodgkin was awarded her Nobel Prize.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics — Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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