Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin

(1910-94) – Nobel Prize-winning scientist

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin grew up in Egypt and the Sudan and came to Somerville in 1928 to study Chemistry. In the fourth year of her degree she carried out a research project investigating the crystal structure of dimethyl thallium halides, which launched her career in crystallography. Hodgkin went on to doctoral study, returning to Oxford when Somerville offered her a research fellowship in Chemistry. She was appointed the college’s first Tutor in Chemistry in 1934.

During the Second World War, Hodgkin worked on solving the structure of penicillin, part of secret work to refine the use of antibiotics. She advanced the technique of X-ray crystallography to the point where she was able to use it to confirm the structure of vitamin B12. It was this part of her groundbreaking experimental work on protein crystallography that made her the sole recipient of the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1964 (prompting the Daily Mail to run the headline ‘Oxford housewife wins Nobel’).

Hodgkin was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1947. She received the Royal Medal in 1956 and the Order of Merit in 1965. She is the first (and so far, the only) British woman to win a Nobel prize for science. She is also the only woman to date to win the Copley medal, the Royal Society’s oldest and most prestigious award, given for outstanding achievements in research in any branch of science.

Following a successful fundraising campaign, Somerville has now established a five-year science fellowship in Hodgkin’s name, with the aim of supporting early career women scientists.

Did you know? While she was a tutor at Somerville, Hodgkin was the recipient of the first ever maternity pay in Oxford (arranged by then Principal, Helen Darbishire). She went on to use a large part of her Nobel Prize money to fund the establishment of Somerville’s nursery.

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