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Dorothy Hodgkin Biography

Meet Dorothy Hodgkin, One of Science's Most Important Women


Source: Google Doodles

Google often celebrates great women in history by way of Google Doodle. Today's front-page illustration is no exception — Dorothy Hodgkin, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964, is the current honoree. The British biochemist is a big deal. Her contributions are the reason why many lifesaving modern drugs are as effective as they are. Scroll down to find out why Dorothy is one of science's most important women!

Source: Nobel Prize

One of Her Students Was the Future Prime Minister

Margaret Thatcher, who served as the UK's prime minister from 1979 to 1990, studied under Dorothy in the 1940s! Margaret later installed a portrait of the chemist in Downing Street in the '80s.

A Celebrated British Gem

Dorothy, who was also a mother to three children, is the only British woman ever to have won a Nobel Price in science. She received the Chemistry Nobel in 1964 for "her determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances" or, in layman's terms, mapping what molecules for fundamental biological compounds looked like.

Why Her Work Is So Important

Organic compounds, or compounds containing carbon, typically have very complicated structures, which make them difficult to isolate. Dorothy used X-ray crystallography, a method that requires making a very pure crystal of the substance and then firing X-rays through the crystal to collect the reflections. Using advanced mathematics, Dorothy was able to decipher the locations of the atoms in each molecule and created 3D maps for penicillin, insulin, and vitamin B12.

Georgina Ferry, a Dorothy Hodgkin biographer, stressed that the "shape of the molecules in our bodies determine how they work. So if you can understand their three-dimensional shapes, you can design better drugs."

Her Research Took Nearly a Decade to Complete

It wasn't until 1956, after eight years' worth of work, that Dorothy and her team finalized the structure for B12, the vitamin found in beef, eggs, dairy, and more that helps keep nerve and blood cells functioning properly. It was the largest molecule to have ever been 3D mapped.

She had also spent a number of years figuring out the structure of penicillin, the antibiotic that fights bacteria in the body. In the Nobel Prize presentation speech, Professor G. Hägg, member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, said, "Mrs. Hodgkin's determination of the structure of penicillin bears evidence of exceptional skill and great perseverance. The difficulties were considerable . . ."

Her Legacy Lives on in Future Female Scientists

The Dorothy Hodgkin fellowship is offered to outstanding British scientists who require a flexible work schedule to due personal issues such as parenting or health issues. Post Ph.D. female scientists in the European Economic Area (E.U. plus UK, Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein) are encouraged to apply.

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