Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin Life and Vitamin B12. English Chemist Pioneer in Penicillin and Insulin Structures. Brief biography and work of Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, who determined the structures of Penicillin, Vitamin B12, Insulin, and other important biological compounds.
English chemist Dorothy Hodgkin significantly contributed to biochemistry. She was awarded the Nobel Prize mainly for determining the structure vitamin B12 by X-ray crystallography. Vitamin B12 is a substance vital to the treatment of anemia.
Brief Biography of Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin
Dorothy Mary Crowfoot was born on January 9, 1878, in Cairo, Egypt, where her father, Dr. John W. Crowfoot, worked with the Egyptian Ministry of Education, and her mother, Grace, was an expert on Coptic textiles.
She grew up in Norfolk and the Middle East. By the time Hodgkin completed her chemistry degree at Oxford, she was uncertain whether to pursue studies in crystals or antiquities. It was her tutor, F.M. Brewer, who persuaded her to concentrate on crystals.
In 1937, she obtained her Ph.D. from Cambridge. She also married Thomas Hodgkin, a historian of Africa, and they had three children. The family frequently travelled, however, pursued different interests. She died on July 29, 1994, aged 84.
X-Ray Diffraction for Hodgkin’s Structures Determination
In 1914, when Dorothy Hodgkin was merely a four-year-old toddler, Max von Laue was awarded a Nobel Prize for his discovery of “the diffraction of X-rays by crystals,” followed by father and son, William H. and William L. Bragg, who shared the 1915 Nobel Prize for using X-ray diffraction that determined how the atoms of a compound are positioned relative to each other.
The X-ray diffraction features would later enable Dorothy Hodgkin to use this part of electromagnetic spectrum to determine the structure of penicillin and eventually, vitamin B12 and other biologically important compounds.
Hodgkin Determines the Structure of Vitamin B12
After graduating from Oxford in 1932, Hodgkin moved to Cambridge to work on her doctorate with John Desmond Bernal, who influenced her interest in structural biochemistry.
Early in her career, Hodgkin worked on the structure of penicillin by using X-ray diffraction, significantly, making the first use of a computer on a biochemical analysis. She found out that penicillin was an important compound and before it could be produced, someone had to work out its structure.
During this time she took an appointment as university lecturer. She also worked out the structure of vitamin B12, which from her analysis, proved to be four times the size of penicillin. In 1956, she produced a three-dimensional analysis of vitamin B12, the first scientist to determine the chemical structure of any substance solely by X-ray analysis, and for this, considered a pioneering use of computers for biochemical work.
In 1964, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for her work on vitamin B12, the third woman to receive the Nobel Price for Chemistry. Her next work was to find the the structure of insulin which she reported in 1969.
Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin Awards and Honours
- 1947 – Elected to the prestigious Royal Society and received both the Royal and Copley Medals.
- 1964 – Awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry, mainly for determining the structure of vitamin B12. She used the money for a scholarship and for the cause of peace and famine relief.
- 1965 – Awarded the Order of Merit, the only woman to be so honoured since Florence Nightingale.
- From 1960 to 1977 – The first Wolfson Research Professor of the Royal Society.
- Hodgkin’s other honours include membership of the United States National Academy of Sciences (1971,) Russian Academy of Science (1976,) and the Dimitriou Award (1984.)