New Biochemistry Building renamed the Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin Building

The New Biochemistry Building has been renamed the Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin Building in honour of the third woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin won the 1964 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for solving the atomic structure of molecules such as penicillin and vitamin B12 by using X-ray crystallography. The renaming of the building in Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin's honour  commemorates her ground-breaking research contributions to Medical Sciences and her role in turning Oxford into a key centre of structural biology. It also serves as a reminder of the vital research that takes place here today and the pride we take from Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin's years-long association with the city of Oxford and the University. The Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin Building houses the Department of Biochemistry, the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience Discovery, the Oxford Genomics Centre, and a section of the Centre for Medicines Discovery

Born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1910, Dorothy was admitted to the University of Oxford to study Chemistry at Somerville College in 1928. She then obtained a PhD from the University of Cambridge before returning to Oxford in 1934 where she spent the majority of her professional life working on a series of key studies and discoveries.

The first, and most complex, of these was her study of the molecular structure of insulin, the hormone responsible for allowing glucose to enter the body's cells to provide energy. It was an extremely complex task and three decades would pass before she determined the complete structure of insulin in 1969. Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin was also the first scientist to completely determine the structure of cholesterol, a complex organic molecule needed to built healthy cells, by using X-ray crystallography.

The onset of World War Two saw an urgent need to refine and scale up the use of antibiotics. Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin assisted this vital effort by determining the structure of penicillin, an antibiotic discovered in Oxford and used to cure previously untreatable infections such as pneumonia and rheumatic fever. By 1945, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin was able to, for the first time, fully determine penicillin's structure.

Watch: Why was Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin's research revolutionary? Her biographer, Georgina Ferry, explains (Credit: Somerville College)

In 1955 Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin published the structure of vitamin B12, a vitamin of vital importance to the body's metabolism. This was of key significance given the importance of metabolic processes, the chemical reactions that sustain life in all organisms by converting food into energy for cells to carry out their functions.

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin was a highly decorated academic whose key contributions to scientific research won her many awards. In 1947 she was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, in 1956 she received the Royal Medal, and in 1965 she was awarded the Order of the Merit. In 1964 she won the Nobel prize for Chemistry "for her determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances". To this day, she remains the only British woman to win it.



Lucio Pezzella

May 2022