Lives of the fellows

Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin

b.12 May 1910 d.29 July 1994
OM(1965) FRS(1947) FRCP(1974) Hon DSc Leeds Hon DSc Manchester Hon DSc Oxon Hon ScD Cantab LLD Bristol DUniv Zagreb DUniv York

Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin was one of the outstanding scientists of the twentieth century. She will be remembered for three things: her pioneering use of X-ray crystallography to determine the structure of proteins and other complex molecules of biological importance, her commitment to making the world a safer and better place and her abiding interest in the development of the young - her family and her students.

Dorothy Crowfoot was born in Cairo. Her father was working in the Egyptian Ministry of Education and both he and her mother were archaeologists. From them came an early enthusiasm for archaeology which vied with science in her choice of a career. It was the latter which won, partly through the influence of A F Joseph, a family friend, and partly through the influence of the science mistress at the Sir John Leman School, Beccles, Suffolk.

She went up to Somerville College, Oxford, in 1928 and apart from a two year period at Newnham, Cambridge, remained associated with Somerville as fellow and honorary fellow for the rest of her life. It was in the Cambridge years (1932 to 1934) with J D Bernal that she became interested in the use of X-ray crystallography to elucidate protein structure. Insulin interested her first in 1935 though it was not until 34 years later the structure was finally solved. In the meantime she had determined the structure of penicillin, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and cholesterol. Her outstanding contributions were recognized by election to the Royal Society in 1947, the award of the gold medal of the Royal Society in 1956 and the Copley medal of the Society in 1976. She was Nobel laureate for chemistry in 1964, only the third woman (after Marie Curie and her daughter Marie Jolio-Curie) to receive it up to that time. It was given not just for these great achievements, but because she had extended the bounds of chemistry itself.

At Oxford she held a succession of teaching posts, finally becoming Wolfson professor of the Royal Society in 1960. She was devoted to undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and her students later came to occupy leading positions all over the world. Particularly noteworthy was her effective support of chemistry in China during the dark years of the Cultural Revolution. She was committed to improving relations between East and West. She was one of the founding members in 1955 of the "Pugwash" conferences which held annual meetings to bring together scientists from both sides of the iron curtain with the aim of furthering the Einstein-Russell Manifesto which drew attention to the mortal danger of thermo-nuclear warfare. She became president of this group in 1975. In 1970 she was elected chancellor of Bristol University and over the next eighteen years she supported the research of the University and did much to encourage the student body, in particular those from the Third World. This she did through the establishment of a Hodgkin scholarship for students from Southern Africa and through the establishment of Hodgkin House to accommodate overseas students; the former was named after her husband Thomas, the historian, and the latter after both of them.

Her place in history is well summed up by Max Perutz: "She will be remembered as a great chemist, a saintly gentle and tolerant lover of people and a devoted protagonist of peace."

W I McDonald

[The Times, 30 July 1994; The Independent, 1 Aug 1994; The Daily Telegraph, 1 Aug 1994]

(Volume X, page 217)

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