#WiSW8: Dorothy Hodgkins

On the cutting edge of X-ray crystallography, Dorothy Hodgkin was a British chemist. In 1964 Hodgkin became the first and only British woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for her determinations of the structures of essential biochemical compounds by X-ray techniques.”

At the age of 18, Hodgin entered Somerville College, Oxford in 1928 where she studied chemistry. She later graduated with a first-class honors degree in 1932 and became the third student to receive the distinction at this college.

The same year, under the supervision of John Desmond Bernal, she began studying for a Ph.D. at Newnham College, Cambridge. During her research, she became conscious of using X-ray crystallography to determine the properties of proteins. She worked with Bernal on the first use of the method for studying a biological material, pepsin.

The pepsin experiment is primarily attributed to Hodgkin but she has always made it known that it was Bernal who took the photos initially and gave her additional key insights. Her Ph.D. was awarded in 1937 for studying X-ray crystallography and sterol chemistry.

She has made several groundbreaking discoveries in her career, including the penicillin atomic structure, the vitamin B12 structure, and the insulin structure. Hodgkin has spent decades refining the techniques of X-ray crystallography, which allowed her to complete her groundbreaking insulin experiments and develop diabetes therapies.

And she became the second woman in 1965 to receive the coveted Order of Merit of the UK. When Hodgin was a lecturer at the University of Oxford, she also mentored Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who would go on winning the Merit Order itself.

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