History of Science Museum: Collection Database Search

Narratives

Exhibition Label: 'Back from the Dead: Demystifying Antibioics' 04.11.2016 - 21.05.2017. Hodgkin case.

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin began research in the 1930s, when the first attempts were being made to use X-ray crystallography to study biologically significant molecules. The video on the left animates the process.

As the atoms in penicillin couldn’t be seen, their arrangement had to be worked out by looking at how a crystal of penicillin scattered x rays passing through it. This process involved complex mathematical calculations which Hodgkin and her assistant performed using special printed strips (6). These calculations generated a grid of numbers (4) whose points could be joined to plot the shape of penicillin’s atomic structure. Two dimensional maps were Hodgkin’s next step. Hodgkin’s sister drew these maps onto Perspex sheets (8) to show the structure in three dimensions. Finally, a traditional stick-and-ball model (7) was made by Hodgkin.

4. Sheet of numbered x-ray intensity points and initial contours, Bodleian Library, MS Eng. c.5604/17
6. Set of Beevers-Lipson strips belonging to Dorothy Hodgkin, Museum of the History of Science, inv. 45220
7. Perspex model of penicillin, Museum of the History of Science, inv. 17631
8. Molecular model of penicillin by Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, England, 1945, 1996-686, on loan from the Science Museum.

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