Among the X-ray crystallographers inspired by William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg was Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910–1994), the third woman ever to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry, which she received in 1964.
Dorothy Crowfoot was born in Cairo, Egypt, to English parents. Although her formal schooling took place in England, she spent a significant part of her youth in the Middle East and North Africa, where her father was a school inspector. Both her parents were authorities in archaeology, and she almost followed the family vocation. But from childhood she was fascinated by minerals and crystals. She enjoyed using a portable mineral analysis kit given to her when she became interested in analyzing pebbles she and her sister found in the stream that ran through the Crowfoot's garden in Khartoum, Sudan. When she was 15, her mother gave her Sir William Henry Bragg's Concerning the Nature of Things (1925), which contained intriguing discussions of how scientists could use X-rays to "see" atoms and molecules.
At Somerville College, Oxford, Crowfoot studied physics and chemistry and chose to do her fourth-year research project on X-ray crystallography, a field for which the equipment at Oxford was primitive. After graduation she seized the opportunity of studying at Cambridge with John Desmond Bernal, who had worked for five years with William Henry Bragg at the Royal Institution. Bernal and Crowfoot collaborated successfully, using X-ray crystallography to elucidate the three-dimensional structure of complex and biologically important molecules, including the sterols—complex alcohols found in plant and animal tissues that are related to hormones—and pepsin—the digestive enzyme that was the first protein to be so analyzed. In 1937 Crowfoot received her Ph.D. from Cambridge—the same year that she married Thomas L. Hodgkin, who became an authority on African history. Both Hodgkins held academic appointments at Oxford, and they raised their three children there with the help of the Hodgkin grandparents.
Dorothy Hodgkin's three greatest chemical achievements were her determination of the structures of penicillin—part of the Anglo-American program to synthesize this new antibiotic during World War II (1945); of vitamin B12, the essential vitamin that prevents pernicious anemia (1957); and of insulin, the hormone essential for successful carbohydrate metabolism—a puzzle on which she worked sporadically from 1934 to 1972.
Hodgkin is fondly remembered by her group of research students, which included many women. She was also involved in a wide range of peace and humanitarian causes and was especially concerned for the welfare of scientists and people living in nations defined by the United States and the United Kingdom as adversaries in the 1960s and 1970s—for example, the Soviet Union, China, and North Vietnam. From 1976 to 1988 she was chair of the Pugwash movement, which was originally inspired by the concerns voiced in 1955 by Albert Einstein and the philosopher-mathematician Bertrand Russell that work by scientists—such as the creation of the hydrogen bomb—would lead to conflict and needed the insights of and input from the world's scientists. Later the Pugwash conferences dealt with other potential dangers raised by scientific research.