April 15, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

March is Women’s History month, so at I, Science we are highlighting some of the incredible women who have contributed to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and maths - who have often been overlooked in our textbooks.
Dorothy Hodgkin.
Image Source: University of Bristol via Wikimedia Commons

Historically, X-ray crystallography is a field of science that welcomed women, beginning with William Bragg recruiting Kathleen Lonsdale. Most know of Rosalind Franklin, whose images were used for the model of DNA, but unlike her, Hodgkin received recognition in her lifetime. Working alongside John Bernal (Bragg’s student), she won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964 and was the second woman to receive the Order of Merit.  

Among the “important biochemical structures” Hodgkin determined were penicillin (1946), vitamin B12 (1956) and insulin (1969), sending ripples throughout the scientific community for her ingenuity. Though revered by student Margaret Roberts (later Thatcher!) but Hodgkin was a socialist, winning the Lenin Peace Prize in 1987 for her nuclear disarmament campaigns. 

Dorothy didn’t shy away from public engagement, often lecturing doctors on the implications of her work in medicine. Despite a diagnosis of early onset arthritis (as seen in her portrait), she worked throughout her life, including presenting to the Royal Society when she was eight months pregnant and attending a conference at 83, a year before she passed away. Hodgkin was the first to get paid maternity leave from Oxford, and a fellowship scheme remains in her name to help scientists who need flexible working patterns.