Minerals, molecules and the Nobel Prize: Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin at the University Museum

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910 – 1994) remains the only female British scientist to have won a Nobel prize (Chemistry 1964). She won it for using the cutting-edge technique of X-ray crystallography to visualise the internal structure of the medically-important biological molecules penicillin and Vitamin B12.

She carried out this work not in a modern chemistry laboratory, but in a small basement room in the University Museum (as it then was), originally as part of its Department of Mineralogy. In this talk, I will investigate the subterranean origins of a technique that now commands massive resources (including the Diamond Light Source near Didcot), and show how Hodgkin single-handedly launched Oxford as a centre for the study of the living body’s molecular components.

About the presenter:

Georgina Ferry is a science writer, author and broadcaster. She has been a staff editor and feature writer on New Scientist, and a presenter of science programmes on BBC Radio. A revised edition of her 1998 biography of Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, which was shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize, was published by Bloomsbury in 2019 as Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin: Patterns, Proteins and Peace. She is a regular contributor to publications including The Guardian, Nature and The Lancet, and was Writer in Residence at OUMNH during its 150th anniversary year in 2010.

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Image used: Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin with her children Toby, Liz, and Luke on the announcement of her Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1947 (credit: Oxford Times)