Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin: biography and contributions of this chemistry

Dorothy Crowfoot was a British chemist known to have studied various three-dimensional biochemical structures using the technique of X-ray crystallography.

Considering all the discoveries and contributions she made for most of her life, in 1964 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, being the fifth woman and the first Briton to win this prize in science. Her research never stopped despite the physical ailments resulting from her rheumatoid arthritis disease and despite being the mother of three children.

In this Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin biography we will mention the most relevant events in the life of this chemistry, and we will see which have been the most relevant contributions to the field of science, in particular to biochemistry.

    Brief biography of Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin

    Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin was born on May 12, 1910 in Cairo, the capital of Egypt, when she belonged to the British Empire., although soon after he moved to London where he would spend his childhood. Daughter of John Winter Crowfoot and Grace Crowfoot were both British archaeologists, she became interested in science from an early age at just 10 years old and had fun doing simple experiments at home and reading various books of scientific literature.

    Youth and university years

    In 1921, at the age of 11, she enrolled as a pupil at Sir John Leman Primary School in the town of Beccles in England, where she studied chemistry, being the only one next to another girl in there reach. . At the age of 18, he entered Somerville College, part of the University of Oxford, to continue his training in chemistry., graduated with honors in 1932 being the third woman to obtain it.

    After graduating, she decided to choose which subject she would choose to pursue her doctorate at Newnham College, which only housed women at Cambridge University. It was like that was decided, influenced by the lecture given by John D. Bernal, for the study of X-ray crystallography, used to know the structures of proteins. John D. Bernal himself was his doctoral tutor welcoming him to his laboratory.

    Bernal, who was an Irish scientist, besides influencing Crowfoot in science, also did so politically; he was a member of the Communist Party and defender of the Soviet regime. Dorothy regarded him and considered him a wise and intelligent man, they even had a love affair before his marriage.

    Therefore X-ray crystallography was used to analyze the biological substance pepsin, a protein synthesized by the stomach which is responsible for digestion by hydrolyzing proteins. He finally obtained his doctorate in 1937 for his research and his thesis on X-ray crystallography and the chemistry of sterols, a type of steroid.

    Outside the professional field, in 1934, at just 24 years old, he was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis, which caused swelling in the joints of his hands and feet causing him great pain and even deformed his limbs over the years.

    Despite the difficulties and discomfort caused by the disease, he did not want to change jobs at all and continued to pursue the same pace of research.

      Consolidation of her research career

      After presenting her doctoral thesis, she returned to the University of Oxford, where she was appointed first researcher and professor of chemistry in 1936 and remained at that university for the rest of her life.

      In 1937 she married Thomas Hodgkin, a Communist Party historian who wrote on the politics and history of Africa., thus being recognized like professor at Balliol College in Oxford. But despite her marriage, she was reluctant to change her maiden name, and it was only 12 years after their affair that she decided, influenced by her secretary to sign with her husband’s last name, since then becoming Dorothy Crowfoort Hodgkin.

      Thomas Hodgkins was the father of his three children: Luke, the eldest born in 1938; Elisabeth, his only daughter, who was born in 1941; and the youngest of all, Toby, born in 1946. During the period of his pregnancies, his effects and discomforts associated with rheumatoid arthritis diminished, and in the same way the disease did not cause him to leave the field. of scientific research, motherhood was not going to do it this time either. She believed that pursuing her scientific career was natural and therefore never considered leaving it.

      In 1947 she had the privilege of being elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London, the oldest scientific society in the United Kingdom and one of the oldest in Europe, Dorothy being the third woman to belong to this society. Thirteen years later, in 1960, she was appointed research professor at the Royal Society of Wolfson, a position she held until 1970.

        Main contributions to science

        Crowfoot has focused its research and work on discover and study various three-dimensional biochemical structures that until now organic chemistry had not been able to determine.

        In 1937, he worked with cholesterol, a lipid which has a structural function in the plasma membrane. Later in 1945 focused on the study of penicillin with the help of collaborators and the use of the first computers; in this way, with the greatest knowledge of this antibiotic, they were able to create it in a semi-synthetic way and thus prevent death from infection by many people.

        After World War II, Crowfoot’s laboratory gained popularity due to the intellectual and personal abilities of chemistry. He thus attracted the attention of many women, including Margaret Thatcher, who would become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

        In 1953 he was fortunate enough to see the well-known and important double-helix model of the three-dimensional structure of DNA found at Cambridge and which was discovered and posed by physicist, molecular biologist and neuroscientist Francis Crick.

        Given his research on penicillin, he was linked to professionals in the pharmaceutical industry. So, thanks to your contacts was able to obtain glasses of vitamin b12, a vitamin essential for the proper functioning of the brain, nervous system and for the formation of blood and various proteins. Dorothy observed that the molecule was composed of cobalt, saw the possibility of using X-ray crystallography to better understand its structure.

        Despite the difficulties of this research, the vitamin B12 molecule being large and little information available, in 1955 she succeeded in publishing the structure after many years of studies. For this reason, his work has been widely recognized, being considered the greatest success achieved by X-rays in the field of natural chemicals and which earned him the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1964, becoming the fifth woman and the first British woman to receive this award in the field of science.

        Another important research and work in Crowfoot’s career was that of the hormone insulin, very important for the body to receive energy, because it is the only one that allows glucose to enter the cells. The study of this hormone began in 1934, but it was not until 1969 that they managed to discover the structure of this complex and large molecule.

        Despite his complicated health, he did not stop his research until 1977, when he decided to retire from the field of research to travel, give lectures and participate in debates on world peace.

        As we noted earlier, Dorothy associated with followers of Communism, such as her husband or her doctoral tutor. In this way, she was strongly influenced by this political current, although she never considered herself a communist. Yes he was very concerned about social inequalities and the possible nuclear war, and for this reason, she was appointed in 1976 president of the Pugwash Conference, which gives conferences on science and world affairs.

        Likewise, given his involvement in the humanitarian field, positioning himself against the war, in 1987 he received the Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet government.

          The last years and death

          In addition to the rewards already mentioned as well received the Copley medal, awarded by the Royal Society in recognition of scientific work and significant achievements in this field, or the Lomonosov Medal awarded by the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Also mention that the Royal Society of London has put its name on one of the scholarships it awards to excellent young scientists.

          After suffering from rheumatoid arthritis for a long time, affecting her joints and being in a wheelchair, Dorothy Crowfoort died on June 29, 1994 at the age of 84 in Ilmington, England, from a “brain hemorrhage. “.

          Since 1999, the Oxford International Festival has held an annual conference in honor of Dorothy’s work and research.

          Bibliographical references

          • Fernandez, T. and Tamaro, E. (2004) Biography of Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin. Biographies and lives.
          • Dodson, G. (2002) Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin. National Institute of Medical Research. The Ridgeway, Mill Hill, London.

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