Lives of the fellows

Frederick Gowland (Sir) Hopkins

b.20 June 1861 d.16 May 1947
OM(1935) MB Lond(1894) BSc(1898) DSc MA Hon ScD Cantab Hon DSc Oxon Dubl Manch Leeds Sheff Reading Harvard Hon LLD Birm Aberd Glasg St And Hon MD Louvain Brux Budapest Lausanne Hon Doctor Paris Hon DCL Durh MRCS FRCP(1914) FRS

Frederick Gowland Hopkins was born at Eastbourne, the son of Frederick Hopkins, and educated partly in private schools and partly at the City of London School. After working briefly for an insurance company in the City, he was apprenticed to a chemist at the Royal School of Mines and attended lectures at University College, qualifying himself as an Associate of the Institute of Chemistry. Employment as an assistant to Sir Thomas Stevenson, the Home Office analyst, brought him into contact with Guy’s Hospital. Appreciating the advantages of a medical qualification, he studied medicine at Guy’s to graduate as M.B. in 1894, four years after taking the B.Sc. degree. He had already shown promise by winning the first Gull research studentship and he now became a demonstrator of physiology at Guy’s. Within a few years, however, Sir Michael Foster had persuaded him to transfer his allegiance to Cambridge, and in 1900 he was admitted to Emmanuel College. For two years he was University lecturer, and then, from 1902 to 1914, reader, in chemical physiology; Emmanuel supplemented his meagre salary by appointing him supervisor of its medical studies.

In his early years at Cambridge Hopkins made three major discoveries. In 1901, working with S. W. Cole, he identified the amino-acid tryptophane; in 1906 he and W. M. Fletcher described the production of lactic acid in muscular activity and its subsequent removal by oxidation; and in the same year, assisted by Edith G. Willcox, he announced the importance of certain "accessory factors" — which came to be known as vitamins—in normal diets. This last discovery, amplified in a famous paper in the Journal of Physiology in 1912, was to win him a Nobel prize for medicine in 1929.

In 1910 his election to a praelectorship at Trinity College enabled him to concentrate his attention on biochemical research and teaching, and four years later he was created professor of biochemistry. In 1921 his professorship was endowed by Sir William Dunn and he became head of the associated Sir William Dunn Institute. The same year was remarkable for yet another important scientific achievement by Hopkins — the isolation of glutathione.

Hopkins, who occupied his chair till 1943 and was one of the original members of the Medical Research Council, from which he retired in 1930, was accorded many honours in his lifetime. With Fletcher, he gave the Croonian lecture before the Royal Society in 1915; he received the Society’s Royal Medal in 1918 and Copley Medal in 1926 and served as its president from 1930 to 1935. In 1932 he was also president of the British Association. He delivered the Oliver-Sharpey Lecture to the Royal College of Physicians in 1914 and the Croonian Lectures in 1927 and was awarded the Baly Medal in 1915 and the Conway Evans Prize in 1938. From the Crown he received a knighthood in 1925 and the Order of Merit in 1935. He was a man of true humility, who inspired his subordinates by his interest in their work and by his friendly accessibility. He married in 1898 Jessie Anne, daughter of Edward Stevens of St. Lawrence, Kent, a nurse in the Royal Free Hospital; they had one son and two daughters. Hopkins died at Cambridge.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1947; B.M.J., 1947; Times, 27 May. 1947. B.M.J., 1930, 19; Al.Cantab., iii, 437]

(Volume IV, page 535)

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