History of Science Museum: Collection Database Search

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Special project: Shout Out for Women – Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin

About the project
Shout Out for Women was a trail across Oxford University’s gardens, libraries and museums. The trail was created by staff to mark the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which enabled all men and some women over the age of 30 to vote for the first time. The trail highlighted some of the incredible women who are represented within the collections and buildings.

Model of the structure of penicillin (Inv. 17631)
Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin began her research in the 1930s, when the first attempts were being made to use X-ray crystallography to study biologically significant molecules. 34 years later, in 1964, she received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her work, which included determining the molecular structure of penicillin and vitamin B12. At the start of 2018 she is still the only woman from the UK to have won a Nobel Prize in the sciences.
The arrangement of atoms in penicillin had to be deduced by firing X-rays through a crystal of penicillin. The resulting scatter pattern from the X-rays was captured on photographic paper. The analysis of these patterns required extremely laborious and manual mathematical processing, which was used to create two-dimensional contours of the molecule’s electron density. Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin’s sister drew these maps onto Perspex sheets to show the structure in three dimensions, producing models like this one.
Written by Robyn Haggard

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