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Getting Molecules to Shape Up

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, a British x-ray crystallographer who won the 1964 Nobel Prize in chemistry for her cutting-edge work determining the molecular structures of complex organic molecules, was born on 10 May 1910. Hodgkin began investigating sterols in 1932, when x-rays were used only to confirm what organic chemists already knew about a chemical structure. Hodgkin's improvements in x-ray crystallography elevated the technique to an important analytical tool.

By 1934, Hodgkin had correctly analyzed cholesterol iodide, the first complex organic molecule determined completely by x-ray crystallography. Her lab later came up with structures for penicillin, which influenced the development of antibiotics, and for vitamin B-12, which her group determined with the aid of one of the first electronic computers. Hodgkin, who spent most of her career at Oxford University and the University of Bristol, died on 30 July 1994.

[Source: Roy Porter, Ed., The Biographical Dictionary of Scientists (Oxford University Press, ed. 2, 1994).]