On August 14, 1969, Dr. Dorothy Hodgkin used a science she had pioneered — X-ray crystallography — to decipher the three-dimensional structure of insulin, a protein that plays an important role in diabetes. This discovery helped scientists understand how to treat the symptoms of diabetes. What is remarkable is that this momentious discovery was made after Dorothy had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1964, only the third woman to ever win this Nobel Prize (the other two were Marie Curie in 1911 and her daughter, Irene Joliet-Curie, in 1935). Dorothy was awarded the Nobel Prize for her work on the structure of a different important molecule, vitamin B-12.
For most people, a Nobel prize would be enough. Not Dorothy! She also was the second woman to receive the Order of Merit (after Florence Nightingale), the first woman to receive the Copley Medal, a Fellow of the Royal Society, a recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize, the Longstaff Medal, the Mikhail Lomonosov Gold Medal, the Dimitrov Prize 1984. Oh, and she’s on a stamp, too. Learn more about Dorothy HERE.
Quotes from Dorothy Hodgkin:
“I was captured for life by chemistry and by crystals.”
“I meant to, to study chemistry, and it was really intended by my family that, whatever happened, I should go to Oxford, which was where my father had been before me, because sadly he had no boys, so I had to manage.”
“There are two moments that are important. There’s the moment when you know you can find out the answer and that’s the period you are sleepless before you know what it is. When you’ve got it and know what it is, then you can rest easy.”
“One’s tendency when one is young is to do experiments just to see what will happen, without really looking for specific things at all. I first set up a little laboratory in the attic at home just to grow crystals or try experiments described in books, such as adding a lot of concentrated sulfuric acid to the blood from a nosebleed which precipitates hemotin from the hemoglobin in the blood. That was quite a nice experiment. I still remember it.”
Barbara McClintock (1902 – 1992) was an American Geneticist. She originated the study of genetics in corn cells. Although her peers were initially skeptical about her work, McClintock went to win the Lasker Prize for her work, which was followed by her receipt of the Nobel Prize in 1983. Her quotes reveal a woman with enthusiasm for her ideas and joy with her work. Perhaps this is the secret to her success! To find out more about Barbara McClintock, click HERE.
I was just so interested in what I was doing I could hardly wait to get up in the morning and get at it. One of my friends, a geneticist, said I was a child, because only children can’t wait to get up in the morning to get at what they want to do.
If you know you’re right, you don’t care. You know that sooner or later, it will come out in the wash.
The prize is such an extraordinary honor. It might seem unfair, however, to reward a person for having so much pleasure over the years, asking the maize plant to solve specific problems and then watching its responses.
Plants are extraordinary. For instance … if you pinch a leaf of a plant you set off electrical impulse. You can’t touch a plant without setting off an electrical impulse … There is no question that plants have all kinds of sensitivities. They do a lot of responding to an environment. They can do almost anything you can think of.
It never occurred to me that there was going to be any stumbling block. Not that I had the answer, but [I had] the joy of going at it. When you have that joy, you do the right experiments. You let the material tell you where to go, and it tells you at every step what the next has to be because you’re integrating with an overall brand new pattern in mind.
With the tools and the knowledge, I could turn a developing snail’s egg into an elephant. It is not so much a matter of chemicals because snails and elephants do not differ that much; it is a matter of timing the action of genes.
I love that first quote! It doesn’t happen every day, but there are some days when I’m so excited about a project that I just can’t wait to get to it!