Natasha Neill, executive officer at the Society of Biology, is leading on Biology: Changing the World. As part of the project, the public were recently invited to vote for the biologist who has most changed the world and the top ten was announced on the 9th June. To celebrate and share the stories of the ten most voted for biologists, the Society will be hosting blogs on each scientist. Here, Natasha writes about Dorothy Hodgkin, who came 10th in the poll.
Announcing the award in 1964, the Daily Mail used the headline from which this blog takes it title. As only the third woman to win the Nobel Prize, Dorothy Hodgkin is an inspirational female scientist, and worthy of her place on our top ten list.
Her work determining the structure of biologically important molecules – including penicillin, Vitamin B12 and insulin – gained her the Gold Medal of the Royal Society in 1956, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for 1964 and membership of the Order of Merit in 1965. (A video of the presentation of the Nobel Prize Medal in 1964 can be found online).
Hodgkin currently has two commemorative plaques to remember her achievements from the Royal Society of Chemistry. A National Chemical Landmark has been awarded to the University of Oxford Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory and a National Historic Chemical Landmark has been awarded for her work at the University of Oxford and in the surrounding Oxford Science Area.
Her achievements are more remarkable considering that she suffered from severe arthritis from an early age causing persistent pains in her hands. Hodgkin refused to let this stop her and in 1993, despite being wheelchair bound, she flew to an international crystallography conference in Peking to the astonishment of other attendees.
Hodgkin also played a key role in easing scientific tensions during the Cold War as President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs keeping lines of communication open between scientists from the East and West. Inclusion continued to be a focus of Hodgkin’s work and she worked to ensure open scientific dialogue between the West, South Africa and the Middle East and made efforts to support international students during her time as Chancellor of Bristol University.
With previous students ranging from Margaret Thatcher to Sir Tom Blundell, one quote from her obituary published in the Times on Saturday 30 July 1994 gives some insight to the impact that she must have had on those that she taught:
“Her many and far-flung former students and colleagues will remember with gratitude and amazement her uncanny ability to choose the right from the wrong features, despite apparent evidence to the contrary, and even more her generosity and her ability to let them follow their own paths under an ever-watchful eye.”
Biology: Changing the World is a heritage project of the Society, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and in partnership with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.