Monday, May 12, 2014

How to grow a young scientist (Dorothy Hodgkin, today's Google Doodle honoree)

Have you noticed today's Google Doodle?  It's in honour of Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994), the developer of protein crystallography.  She developed a way of showing how things like insulin are constructed--because scientists had to be able to see the structure of it before they could work with it.

"Though born in the twentieth century, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin had a typical late-nineteenth century upbringing. She was born in Cairo, Egypt, then a British colony. When Hodgkin was four, the family was back in England and World War I broke out. The parents returned to Egypt, leaving the children with family and governesses for four years. Hodgkin found an interest in chemistry and crystals, a popular hobby for women of leisure in the 1800s. But on her sixteenth birthday, she received a book by William Henry Bragg (a Nobelist in physics) about using x-rays to analyze crystals. She had found her life's work."  ( article)

"Her mother, Grace Mary Crowfoot (born Hood) was actively involved in all her father's work, and became an authority in her own right on early weaving techniques. She [Dorothy's mother] was also a very good botanist and drew in her spare time the illustrations to the official Flora of the Sudan. Dorothy Crowfoot spent one season between school and university with her parents, excavating at Jerash and drawing mosaic pavements, and she enjoyed the experience so much, that she seriously considered giving up chemistry for archaeology.  She became interested in chemistry and in crystals at about the age of 10, and this interest was encouraged by Dr. A.F. Joseph, a friend of her parents in the Sudan, who gave her chemicals and helped her during her stay there to analyse ilmenite. Most of her childhood she spent with her sisters at Geldeston in Norfolk, from where she went by day to the Sir John Leman School, Beccles, from 1921-28. One other girl, Norah Pusey, and Dorothy Crowfoot were allowed to join the boys doing chemistry at school, with Miss Deeley as their teacher; by the end of her school career, she had decided to study chemistry and possibly biochemistry at university."  (Nobel Prize biographical article)

"I first met the subject of X-ray diffraction of crystals in the pages of the book W. H. Bragg wrote for school children in 1925, 'Concerning the Nature of Things'. [More about Bragg] In this he wrote: "Broadly speaking, the discovery of X-rays has increased the keenness of our vision over ten thousand times and we can now 'see' the individual atoms and mo1ecules." I also first learnt at the same time about biochemistry which provided me with the molecules it seemed most desirable to 'see'. At Oxford, seriously studying chemistry, with Robinson 
and Hinshelwood among my professors, I became captivated by the edifices chemists had raised through experiment and imagination-but still I had a lurking question. Would it not be better if one could really 'see' whether molecules as complicated as the sterols, or strychnine were just as experiment suggested? The process of 'seeing' with X-rays was clearly more difficult to apply to such systems than my early reading of Bragg had suggested; it was with some hesitation that I began my first piece of research work with H. M. Powell on thallium dialkyl halides, substances remote from, yet curiously connected with, my later subjects for research."  (Her Nobel Prize acceptance speech)

More here.

No comments: