British pioneer of X-ray crystallography, Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994), is best known for her ground-breaking discovery of the structures of penicillin, insulin and vitamin B12. At age 18, she started studying chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford, then one of the University of Oxford colleges for women only. She also studied at the University of Cambridge under John Desmond Bernal, where she became aware of the potential of X-ray crystallography to determine the structure of proteins. Together with Sydney Brenner, Jack Dunitz, Leslie Orgel, and Beryl Oughton, she was one of the first people in April 1953 to see the model of the structure of DNA, constructed by Francis Crick and James Watson. She was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and is also known for her peace work with organisations such as Science for Peace and the Medical Aid Committee for Vietnam.
Well, I really started chemistry, of course in a little class in England, in the course where the children were introduced to chemistry... to one science a term and chemistry was the first one, and it began with a session in which we grew crystals, and I just liked doing this ever afterwards. The... our kind of operations followed from that, where I set up a lab at home where I could grow crystals in, just with a certain amount of glass apparatus and crystals bought from the chemist, who didn't seem to have any particular rules about what he shouldn't spend... allow 10-year-old children to have. And, and from this time forward in Sudan, our parents were working... my father actually was the Director of Education at the time, so I went there and started the medical school amongst other projects. We had the 12 first students to tea on the lawn in our house, and we children carried round cakes for them, and one of them asked me, why were his fingers so yellow, but I hadn't unfortunately done the organic chemistry which would have told me the correct answer, at that stage so I had to be told that. The... that class was a very distinguished class, one member of whom became the first Minister for Health when they set up the independent country of the Sudan.
[Q] Was your father interested in chemistry or science particularly?
No, not at all, not at all. He thought it rather a pity that I wanted to do it. My mother was more sympathetic and more actually interested. She was a really good botanist herself, and... and a lot of the time, our time in Sudan, I used to go around with her, helping her collect flowers, and then she would spend days drawing them very carefully to illustrate the flora of the Sudan.
Guy Dodson studied chemistry and physical science at the University of New Zealand, followed by a PhD on the crystallographic study of an alkaloid. In 1961, he came to Oxford to work on the crystal structure of insulin. In the mid 1970s Guy and his wife moved to York University to establish a laboratory. In addition to insulin studies the laboratory has investigated many complex molecules of medical significance, including haemoglobin, myoglobin, HIV related proteins, proteases and proteins involved in managing nucleic acids in cells. In 1993, he went to the NIMR in London to establish a crystallographic group in an environment that spanned molecular, physiological and disease-related disciplines. Here his research began on some cell signalling proteins. His interests on medically relevant proteins included prions, malarial and TB proteins, and some clinically relevant thrombin inhibitors. Guy Dodson retired in 2004 but is still finding much to do in York and the NIMR.