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Family history and school


Panning for gold in our back garden
Dorothy Hodgkin Scientist
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One day she took us to see the Wellcome Laboratories, which we started talking about a moment ago, and these were at that time just housed in a few of the rooms of the Gordon College; they had built a lab of their own. And at the time we went in, the morning we went in, there were two expeditions coming in from the country. One was a medical one dealing with sleeping sickness, and they had a terrible number of photographs of the condition of the people there, which was very heartbreaking. The other expedition was a geological one, and they had amongst other finds, three or four little pellets of gold which had been got from this expanse of streams, and then they showed us how it had been found by taking their three or four little pellets, and throwing them into a basin full of sand, and then moving it...

[Q] Rinsing the water away?

Rinsing the water off. So they... gradually the gold appeared, I'm glad to say. We were very excited by this operation, that we went back to look at the stream in our back garden, and could see that it had a sort of black colour sediment. So then we borrowed a basin from the kitchen and filled it with water, and a lot of the sediment, and, and shook it in the appropriate way until we had isolated a good lot of the sediment, which looked like shiny, crystalline material. And I thought that we'd better find out what it was, so the natural thing to do was to take it over to the Wellcome lab and asked to try... I thought just preliminary tests would probably show - I guessed it might be manganese dioxide, but it wasn't, and in fact, AF Joseph had to help me find it, because it contained a metal which was not...

[Q] He had a...

Was not in our school chemistry books. It was ilmenite, a mix, oxide of iron and titanium, much later found on the surface of the moon, which gave me a lot of pleasure.

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: Wellcome Laboratories, AF Joseph

Duration: 3 minutes, 8 seconds

Date story recorded: 1990

Date story went live: 02 October 2009