Sunday 12 May 2024

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin


Look closely at the fingers of the person in the picture. Her fingers had not bent in this way due to age; she had been suffering from chronic rheumatoid arthritis since she was twenty-one years old. Since then, she has had to endure intense pain and gradually worsening deformities in her fingers and toes. She, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, has been conducting research with these pains and deformities over time. She discovered the structure of penicillin, the chemical structure of vitamin B12, and the structure of insulin using X-ray crystallography. If we think about how many millions of people on Earth are benefiting from her discoveries, we can understand the impact.

British scientist John Crowfoot and botanist Grace Crowfoot's first child, Dorothy, was born on May 12, 1910, in Cairo, Egypt, where they were under British rule at that time. Her father was working at the Ministry of Education in Egypt. When Dorothy was four years old, the First World War broke out. Her parents left her in England while they went to work in Egypt. Dorothy stayed with a nanny in England for four years without her parents. That's when she became independent.

Dorothy grew up with a keen interest in scientific inquiry from a young age. Her parents encouraged her equally. Chemist William Henry Bragg and his son Lawrence Bragg discovered X-ray crystallography, winning the Nobel Prize in 1915. At the age of eleven, Dorothy became deeply interested in this subject after reading William Henry Bragg's book on crystallography. At that time, girls were not allowed to study science at school. Girls were only allowed to study domestic science. Dorothy and another classmate, Nora, managed to get permission to attend chemistry classes.

Young Dorothy

She enrolled at Somerville College, Oxford University, in 1928 and graduated with a degree in chemistry in 1932. At that time, the most renowned professor of crystallography in England was John Desmond Bernal of the University of Cambridge. Most science professors at Cambridge University were men. However, some teachers began to give opportunities for girls to engage in scientific research. Professor Bernal was one of them. Impressed by Dorothy's enthusiasm and her undergraduate results, he offered her the opportunity to conduct research in his lab from 1932 to 1934.

A few years ago, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Severe pain and gradual deformities in her fingers and toes began. However, Dorothy was not one to succumb to any pain. Treatment and research went hand in hand. In 1934, X-ray was used in Bernal's lab to take pictures of proteins – to understand if biological compounds could crystallize.

Obtaining the necessary knowledge of crystallography from Professor Bernal, Dorothy came to Oxford University in 1934. Alongside her studies, she began her own PhD research. She started researching the three-dimensional structure of insulin. In 1937, she obtained her PhD from Oxford University. She spent her entire academic life at Oxford. Despite being a faculty member at Oxford, she did not have the opportunity to attend any research committee meetings due to her gender until after the end of the Second World War.

In 1937, she married historian Thomas Hodgkin. After marriage, Dorothy Crowfoot became Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, but everyone started calling her Dorothy Hodgkin officially.

Due to the start of the Second World War, the need for penicillin for wounded soldiers increased significantly. However, the three-dimensional structure of penicillin had not yet been discovered. Therefore, to make penicillin more effective, Dorothy started researching its structure, setting aside her work on insulin. It took Dorothy Hodgkin four years of relentless research to discover the three-dimensional structure of penicillin in 1948. After that, she started researching the three-dimensional structure of vitamin B12. After eight years of relentless research, in 1957, she discovered the structure of vitamin B12. For this discovery, Dorothy Hodgkin won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964.

After discovering the structure of vitamin B12, Dorothy resumed her work on the 3-dimensional structure of insulin. It took her thirty-four years of relentless research to discover the highly complex 3-dimensional structure of insulin. The work she started in 1935 finally succeeded in 1969. The 3-dimensional structure of insulin was discovered.

Dorothy Hodgkin worked throughout her life for science, alongside her work for peace. Another Nobel laureate, Linus Pauling, who won the Nobel Prize for Peace after his work in chemistry, collaborated with Dorothy Hodgkin for world peace. For this, she received several international awards, including the Lenin Peace Prize.

Dorothy Hodgkin and her husband were both very international. In October 1964, when news of the Nobel Prize reached them, Dorothy was in Ghana. Her husband was then the director of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana. Their daughter, Elizabeth, taught at a school in Zambia, while their son, Tobias, worked in Delhi.

Dorothy didn't just confine herself to research. Alongside her lifelong commitment to science, she was active in anti-war movements and advocated for nuclear disarmament.

On July 29, 1994, Dorothy passed away.

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