32 No. 4
The Wizard of Protein Crystallography
Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, a pioneer of protein crystallography and Great Britain’s first female Nobel laureate, was born in Cairo, Egypt, almost exactly a century ago, on 12 May 1910. She received her undergraduate degree from Somerville College at Oxford and, after carrying out her doctoral research with famed crystallographer J.D. Bernal at Cambridge, she returned to her alma mater and started her independent career in 1934.
The molecular structures of a string of important biomolecules of unprecedented complexity at the time, including penicillin and vitamin B12, were elucidated within the next three decades, and her ingenuity and resourcefulness were recognized with the 1964 Nobel Prize in chemistry. Far from slowing down, Hodgkin solved the structure of insulin in 1969, concluding a piece of work that she had started almost 35 years before. She devoted a good part of her time in the 1970s and 1980s to a wide range of peace and humanitarian causes, primarily in developing countries, and she remained active in the field of protein crystallography until her death in 1994.
The stamp illustrated here honors Hodgkin and is part of a set of 10 stamps issued in the United Kingdom earlier this year to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society. The stamps portray 10 distinguished Fellows of the Society, one for each 35-year period of its history, going all the way back to Robert Boyle. Although Hodgkin is the only woman in the exclusive cohort, she is certainly in good company since the eclectic group also includes the likes of Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Lister, and Ernest Rutherford. The upper half of the stamp depicts the electron density levels in the three-dimensional structure of vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin), with three of the four pyrrole subunits (labeled A, B, and D) that make up the corrin ring surrounding the central cobalt ion and the 5,6-dimethylbenzimidazole and cyanide groups included in the structural diagram.
Written by Daniel Rabinovich <email@example.com>.
last modified 28 June 2010.
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