Dorothy Crowfoot life and biography

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Dorothy Crowfoot biography

Date of birth : 1910-05-12
Date of death : 1994-07-29
Birthplace : Cairo, Egypt
Nationality : British
Category : Science and Technology
Last modified : 2010-11-10
Credited as : Chemist, social activist and researcher, development of Protein crystallography

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Dorothy Crowfoot was a British chemist, social activist and researcher credited with the development of Protein crystallography. Among the X-ray crystallographers inspired by William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg was Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, the third woman to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry, which she received in 1964. She is also known for her works in the conformation of the structure of penicillin, and the structure of vitamin B12. Her research and discoveries became a widely used tool and were critical in determining the structures of many biological molecules. She is regarded as a pioneer scientist, especially for her contributions in the field of X-ray crystallography studies.Apart from scientific discoveries, Crowfoot used her intelligence in understanding the problems faced by other people as well. She was always concerned about social inequalities and conflicts and did her best to eradicate them. Read on to get detailed information about her childhood, early life and her works.

Dorothy Mary Crowfoot was the eldest of the four sisters, born on 12th May 1910 in Cairo, Egypt, to parents John Winter, excavator and scholar of classics and Grace Mary Hood. For the first four years of her life, Dorothy lived as an English expat in the Middle East and North Africa. During the First World War, she was in U.K. with her relatives and friends, away from her parents. After the war got over, her mother decided to stay at home in England and educate her daughters. This was the best time in the life of Dorothy, as she described it to be. In the year 1921, Dorothy entered the Sir John Leman Grammar school in Beccles, England. Her parent’s Puritan ethic of selflessness and service to humanity played a major role in her development and reflected in the later achievements of Dorothy.

Early Life
At an early age, Dorothy Crowfoot developed a flair for ‘chemistry’. Her excellent schooling prepared her well for the later university life. At the age of 18, she joined the Somerville College, Oxford, and started studying chemistry. Her interest in chemistry made her attend a special course in crystallography. She started following the advice of her tutor in the class F.M. Brewer, to do a research in X-ray crystallography. This advice from her tutor made her choose a research project on X-ray crystallography in her fourth year in college. After graduating from Oxford, Dorothy seized the opportunity to get into Cambridge, to study with John Desmond Bernal, who worked for 5 yrs with William Bragg at the Royal institution. Dorothy and Bernal collaborated successfully and started researching on the X-ray crystallography, using it to determine the 3-D structure of various complex organic molecules that are important in the functioning of any living organism. In the year 1933, she received a research fellowship from her college, which was to be held in Cambridge for a year and in Oxford for another year.

As part of her research, Dorothy went back to Oxford in 1934 and remained there mostly, apart from the small intervals. On her return, insulin was an extraordinary research project offered to her. Dorothy was offered a small crystalline insulin sample by Robert Robinson, to begin the research with. The hormone caught her attention because of its complex nature and the wide effect it had on human body. However, at this time the X-ray crystallography had not been developed for her to cope with the complexity of insulin. However, with the money she and Sir Robert Robinson had collected and with the research assistance from the Rockefeller and Nuffield Foundations, Dorothy continued the research on the X-ray crystallography. The researchers were housed in scattered rooms in the university museum dealing with the difficult and complex problems they faced. In the year 1936, Dorothy was offered a post of a research fellow at Somerville College, a post which she held until 1977.

In 1942, Dorothy and her group started research on penicillin. The research on penicillin was an effort of British-American government and industry. Penicillin research was induced to treat soldiers infected by various diseases prevalent in the unsanitary conditions of battlefields. However, in 1944, the department got divided and Dr. Crowfoot continued in the department of chemical crystallography, with H.M Powell as a reader under Professor C.N Hinshelwood. It was only in 1945 that her group of scientists determined penicillin’s structure. The information generated, as a result of the research, proved out to be very useful in developing the semi-synthetic antibiotics, like ampicillin, after the war. Dorothy also took part in many meetings in the year 1946, which led to the foundation of the International Union of Crystallography. She also visited many countries for scientific purpose including China, USA and the USSR. In the same year, she was appointed the university lecturer and demonstrator. She was associated with the department of Mineralogy and crystallography in the beginning under H.L. Bowman.

After determining the structure of penicillin, they started research on vitamin B12—an essential vitamin helpful in preventing pernicious anemia—in the year 1948, and the research reached its final stages in the year 1957. In 1956, she became the University Reader in X-ray Crystallography. In the same year, Dorothy was elected as a foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences. Two years after, she was elected as the foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1960, she was offered the post of a Wolfson Research Professor in the Royal Society. It was in 1969 that the structure of insulin was finally resolved by Dorothy and her set of researchers. Most of her work life was spent by her as official fellow and tutor in Natural Science at Somerville. Dorothy was mainly responsible for teaching chemistry in women’s college.

Social Activities
Dorothy was a specialist in her field and was endowed with an excellent personality as well. She was not a single-minded scientist and was more interested in exchange of knowledge with other scientists across the world. She often employed her intelligence to think about others' problems and was also concerned about social inequalities and stopping conflicts. Dorothy was also a part of a wide range of peace and humanitarian causes and was concerned for the welfare of scientists and people living in nations defined by the United States and the U.K as adversaries in the 1960s and 1970s like the China, Vietnam and the Soviet Union. Her involvement with these social activities led her to become the president of Pugwash from 1976-1988. Pugwash was originally inspired by the concern, voiced in the year 1955 by Albert Einstein and the philosopher-mathematician, Bertrand Russell, which argued against few of the works done by scientists, like the creation of the hydrogen bomb.

Awards & Honor
All the works and inventions of Dorothy, like the determination of the vitamin B12 component, got her the Nobel Prize in the year 1964. Apart from the Nobel Prize, she was also a recipient of the order of merit, recipient of Copley Medal, a Fellow of the Royal Society and The Lenin Peace Prize. She also held the position of the Chancellor of Bristol University, the building of which is named after her name. Posthumously, Dorothy was one among the five ‘Women of Achievement’ selected for a set of British stamps issued in August 1996.

Personal Life
Dorothy got married to the left-wing historian Thomas Hodgkin in the year 1937. Thomas was then teaching adult-education classes in mining and industrial communities in the North of England. The couple was blessed with 3 children, born in 1939, 1941 and 1946 respectively. Thomas subsequently spent extended periods in West Africa, where he was a great supporter and historian of the emerging postcolonial states.

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin left for the heavenly abode on July 29, 1994, at her home in Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire, England, after a stroke.


1910: Dorothy Crowfoot was born
1921: Dorothy entered the Sir John Leman Grammar school in Beccles, England
1933: Received a research fellowship from her college, which was to be held in Cambridge for a year and in Oxford for another year.
1934: returned to Oxford
1936: Offered a post of a research fellow at Somerville College
1937: Married Thomas Hodgkin
1942: Dorothy and her group started research on penicillin
1945: Invented Penicillin
1946: Attended meetings which led to the foundation of the International Union of Crystallography
1954: Invented Vitamin B12
1956: Became the University Reader in X-ray Crystallography. She was got elected as a foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences.
1958: Elected as the foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
1960: Offered the post of a Wolfson Research Professor in the Royal
1964: Awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry
1969: Invented Insulin
1994: Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin died.

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