1910 - 1994

Vitamin B12

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin was a biochemist and pacifist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964 for “her determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances”, one of which was the analysis of vitamin B12.

Already in primary school, Hodgkin discovered her passion for science and decided to dedicate her studies to the chemistry of biologically relevant molecules and crystals. As one of very few female students at that time, she studied Chemistry in Oxford and pursued her postdoctoral studies in Cambridge to study sterols by X-ray diffraction, a method that instantly fascinated her by its broad scope and analytical power. In 1934, she returned to Oxford up until her retirement in 1977.

Over the course of her career, she was the first to determine the three-dimensional structures of cholesteryl iodide, a complex bioorganic molecule, penicillin, insulin and most notably vitamin B12. For the analysis of the latter, she used one of the first high speed digital computers at that time. To solve the complex structure of insulin via X-ray crystallography, she and her team needed approximately 35 years.

Hodgkin was the third-ever woman to have received the Nobel Prize, the third woman to be a member of the exclusive Royal Society, and the second to receive the Order of Merit by the Queen, the highest British civil honour.

Aged 28, shortly after the birth of her first of three children, Hodgkin suffered from articular rheumatism which caused life-long chronic pain. Despite this grave impairment, she continued to actively be engaged in her research, which former co-workers of her laboratory noted.

In addition to her scientific commitment, since 1962, she had been a member of the Pugwash-Conference, an international organization that seeks solutions to armed security threats and at that time aimed to bring together scientists from the East and West during the Cold War.

Written by: Magdalena Lederbauer.