Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin
Recipient of the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics, Dr. Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin was a leader in the field of molecular biology and a pioneer in the field of protein crystallography.
Developing a passion for chemistry at a young age, sparked by an interest in rocks and minerals, she enrolled at Oxford University earning a first-class honors degree, making her only the third woman to attain this rank.
At the University of Cambridge she worked with her supervisor using x-ray crystallography to examine the structures of proteins, more specifically the biological substance pepsin. After receiving her PhD, she was invited back to Oxford as the school’s first fellow and tutor in chemistry and would spend the rest of her career there.
Though she had worked with the new field of x-ray crystallography while pursuing her doctorate, Hodgkin was one the first to apply its technologies and principles to the understanding of the structure of biological proteins. Using this methodology, Hodgkin and a colleague were able to determine the structure of the steroid cholesteryl iodide in 1945 and in the next few years they shared the structure of penicillin changing the understanding of it completely.
First encountering vitamin B shortly after it was discovered; Hodgkin applied her x-ray crystallography techniques in an effort to discover its structure. Her conclusion was that the structure must include a ring of atoms because the crystals were ploechroic, meaning they appeared as different colors when examined at different angles.
As the first person to determine the final structure of B-12 and moreover for her determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances she was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics.
But her work wasn’t finished, in fact a project that she had begun in 1934-understanding the structure of insulin-would take over 30 years to complete. It wasn’t until 1969 when technology caught up with this complex hormone that she was able to resolve its structure and go on to work with other labs on insulin research and traveling the world giving talks about insulin and its importance.
Written by Angela Goad