Dorothy Hodgkin: an inspirational pioneering scientist

Many members of staff at Keele pass through the doors or walk past the Dorothy Hodgkin Building every day, but who was Professor Dorothy Hodgkin?

Born Dorothy May Crowfoot in 1910, Dorothy was a British chemist known for a number of influential discoveries including developing protein crystallography and deciphering and confirming the structure of insulin, penicillin and vitamin B.

In 1964 Professor Hodgkin became the first and only British woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her determination by X-ray techniques of the structures of biologically important molecules. Her formula was the starting-point for the synthesis of chemically modified penicillins that have saved many lives, and she was regarded as a pioneer scientist in the field of X-ray crystallography studies of biomolecules.

Professor Hodgkin was born in Cairo but grew up in England and received a first-class honours degree in Chemistry from the University of Oxford. Professor Hodgkin completed her PhD at the University of Cambridge, and in 1936 she was appointed as Oxford’s first fellow and tutor in Chemistry, a post she held until 1977.

The Dorothy Hodgkin building on the Keele campus was originally built to house the Department of Physics, and in 1988 when Professor Hodgkin gave a lecture at Keele the main lecture theatre in the building was named after her. In 2002 the building was fully refurbished and Professor Hodgkin’s eldest son and family visited Keele to unveil a plaque officially naming the entire Dorothy Hodgkin building in honour of her.

Fun Facts:

  • Professor Hodgkin was only the third woman to achieve a distinction in Chemistry from the University of Oxford.
  • She taught former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who installed a portrait of her in Downing Street in 1980s - even though Professor Hodgkin was an open Labour supporter.
  • In 1953 she was one of the first people see the model of the double helix structure of DNA in Cambridge.
  • When she won the Nobel Prize in 1964, she was by then a grandmother.