[In Our Time] Dorothy Hodgkin

Dorothy Hodgkin

03/10/2019 by BBC Radio 4

Web player: https://podplayer.net/?id=82909776
Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/6/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p07pzb3g.mp3

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the work and ideas of Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910-1994), awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964 for revealing the structures of vitamin B12 and penicillin and who later determined the structure of insulin. She was one of the pioneers of X-ray crystallography and described by a colleague as ‘a crystallographers’ crystallographer’. She remains the only British woman to have won a Nobel in science, yet rejected the idea that she was a role model for other women, or that her career was held back because she was a woman. She was also the first woman since Florence Nightingale to receive the Order of Merit, and was given the Lenin Peace Prize in recognition of her efforts to bring together scientists from the East and West in pursuit of nuclear disarmament.


Georgina Ferry
Science writer and biographer of Dorothy Hodgkin

Judith Howard
Professor of Chemistry at Durham University


Patricia Fara
Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Listen Date: 2020-01-20


  • This podcast ended up being much more about Dorothy Hodgkin’s progress and struggles as a woman scientist, than about X-ray crystallography. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; and the actual details of science don’t translate very well on In Our Time in any case.
  • The stories about her portraits (National Portrait Gallery, Royal Society) were delightful.
  • As was the story that her family didn’t know what the admission requirements were to get into Oxford, so that after school she ended up taking a gap year of private tutoring to meet the requirements.
  • Another amazing story: having to cycle around Oxford with sine and cosine calculators (this wasn’t very clear) and not having to drop them or have them shift.
  • Also “I am going to get the Nobel Prize some day, and then they’ll have headlines saying ‘Grandmother wins Nobel Prize'” and then that actually happened.
  • This episode also featured something that my Science Twitter used to say often – Marie Curie should not be held up as a role model for girls / women who want to get into science because of how much of a loner she was, and how much she was an oddity. And Dorothy Hodgkin is much more suitable.


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