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My first insulin crystals


Choosing not to work on defence against chemical warfare
Dorothy Hodgkin Scientist
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At the time that Harry was called up, the general plan was in order, that there were, there was a department which decided how to dispose of the scientific force in the country so they... I got a letter from, what was it called, I forget, anyway...

[Q] Ministry of Defence... Ministry of War... War Department?

Yes, offering me a job useful in war which from what I sort of saw of it, guessed that it was probably dealing with defence against chemical warfare. Mercifully we hadn't any chemical warfare. I shouldn't have really done anything useful if I'd done that, but in fact I didn't much like the idea of going away from Oxford and what should I do with Lukey and so on. So I went around to Hinshelwood who was the formal head of my department in the museum at that moment and asked his advice and he said, oh no I shouldn't take that if I were you, I think you're probably better working here. And he knew I was working on penicillin so I felt quite okay.


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. All recorded material copyright of The Biochemical Society.

Listeners: Guy Dodson

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.

Tags: Ministry of Defence

Duration: 1 minute, 49 seconds

Date story recorded: 1990

Date story went live: 02 June 2008