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Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin

Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin

Dorothy Hodgkin with a ball-stick representation of insulin, courtesy of Pugwash Conferences on Science & World Affairs.
BornMay 12, 1910
- Cairo, Egypt
DiedJuly 29 1994 (aged 84)
Residence United Kingdom
FieldMedical scientist
Alma materChemistry at Somerville College, Oxford
University of Cambridge
Academic advisor  John Desmond Bernal
Known forBritish founder of protein crystallography
Notable prizes Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1964), She was a recipient of the Order of Merit, a Fellow of the Royal Society and was Chancellor of Bristol University from 1970 to 1988.

Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin, OM , FRS (12 May 1910 – 29 July 1994) was a British founder of protein crystallography.

She pioneered the technique of X-ray crystallography, a method used to determine the three dimensional structures of biomolecules. Among her most influential discoveries are the determination of the structure of penicillin and vitamin B12, for which she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In 1969, after 35 years of work and five years after winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Hodgkin was able to decipher the structure of insulin. She is regarded as one of the foremost scientists in the field of X-Ray crystallography studies of natural molecules. Besides her extraordinary scientific abilities, she was unassuming, very communicative, and passionate about social inequalities and peace.


Timeline of her discoveries

Hodgkin determined the three-dimensional structures of the following biomolecules:

The list is not exhaustive, it rather highlights major milestones.

Early years

She was born Dorothy Mary Crowfoot in May 12, 1910 in Cairo, Egypt, to John Crowfoot, excavator and scholar of classics, and Grace Mary Crowfoot née Hood. For the first four years of her life she lived as an English expatriate in Asia Minor, returning to England only a few months each year. She spent the period of World War I in the UK under the care of relatives and friends, but separated from her parents. After the war, her mother decided to stay home in England and educate her children, a period that Hodgkin later described as the happiest in her life.

In 1921, she entered the Sir John Leman Grammar School in Beccles, Suffolk. She traveled abroad frequently to visit her parents in Cairo and Khartoum. Both her father and her mother had a strong influence with their Puritan ethic of selflessness and service to humanity which reverberated in her later achievements.

Insulin structure

Insulin was one of her most extraordinary research projects. It began in 1934 when she was offered a small sample of crystalline insulin by Robert Robinson. The hormone captured her imagination because of the intricate and wide-ranging effect it has in the body. However, at this stage X-ray crystallography had not been developed far enough to cope with the complexity of the insulin molecule. She and others spent many years improving the technique. Larger and more complex molecules were being tackled (see timeline above) until in 1969 - 35 years later - the structure of insulin was finally resolved. But her quest was not finished then. She cooperated with other laboratories active in insulin research, gave advice, and travelled the world giving talks about insulin and its importance for diabetes. She considered solving the structure of insulin her greatest scientific achievement.

Private life

Hodgkin's scientific mentor J.D. Bernal greatly influenced her life both scientifically and politically. He was a distinguished scientist of great repute in the scientific world, a member of the Communist party, and a faithful supporter of successive Soviet regimes until their invasion of Hungary. She always referred to him as "Sage" and loved and admired him unreservedly; intermittently, they were lovers. The conventional marriages of both Bernal and Hodgkin were far from smooth.

In 1937, Dorothy married Thomas Hodgkin who was also a one-time member of the Communist party, as well as a charming, intelligent, energetic and impulsive suitor. She also loved him and always consulted him concerning important problems and decisions. Dorothy bore quietly the many difficulties of these situations. He later had a varied career as a schoolteacher, worker's educationist, historian and economist. He became an advisor in 1961 to Kwame Nkrumah, President of Ghana, where he remained for extended periods, often visited by her. The couple had three children. All three chidlren are still alive today. One has a girl named Alexandra Dorothy after their grandmother.

Social activities

Despite her scientific specialisation and excellence she was by no means a single-minded and one-sided scientist. She received many honours but was more interested in exchange with other scientists. She often employed her intelligence to think about other people's problems and was concerned about social inequalities and stopping conflict. As a consequence she was President of Pugwash from 1976 to 1988.


  Apart from the Nobel Prize, she was a recipient of the Order of Merit, a Fellow of the Royal Society, The Lenin Peace Prize, and was Chancellor of Bristol University from 1970 to 1988.


  • Ferry, Georgina. 1998. Dorothy Hodgkin A Life. Granta Books, London.
  • Dodson, Guy. 2002. Dorothy Mary Hodgkin, OM. Biographical Memoir, The Royal Society, London.
  • Dodson, Guy, Jenny P. Glusker, and David Sayre (eds.). 1981. Structural Studies on Molecules of Biological Interest: A Volume in Honour of Professor Dorothy Hodgkin. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.

Obituary notices

  • Dodson, Guy (Structure 2: 891-893, 1994)
  • Glusker, Jenny P. (1994). "Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910-1994)". Protein Science 3: 2465-2469.
  • Glusker, Jenny P., Margaret J. Adams (1995). "". Physics Today 48: 80-81.
  • Louise N. Johnson, David Phillips (1994). "Professor Dorothy Hodgkin, OM, FRS". Nature Structural & Molecular Biology 1: 573 - 576.
  • Perutz, Max F. (Quarterly Review of Biophysics 27: 333-337, 1994)
  • Nature 371: 20, 1994.
  • Royal Society of Edinburgh obituary
  • Guy Dodson (2002). "Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin, O.M. 12 May 1910--29 July 1994". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 48: 179-219.

Preceded by
Karl Ziegler and Giulio Natta
Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Succeeded by
Robert Burns Woodward
Academic offices
Preceded by
The Duke of Beaufort
Chancellor of the University of Bristol
Succeeded by
Sir Jeremy Morse

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Dorothy_Crowfoot_Hodgkin". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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