Posted by: georginaferry | May 18, 2010

Happy 100th Birthday Dorothy

(c)Peter Lofts Photography/National Portrait Gallery London

12 May was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dorothy Hodgkin, Britain’s only female Nobel-prizewinning scientist. Dorothy conducted much of her Nobel prizewinning work on penicillin and vitamin B12 in a dingy semi-basement in the Museum, and it was also here, in the very room where the famous Huxley-Wilberforce debate took place, that she first learned the technique of X-ray crystallography as an undergraduate in chemistry at Oxford University.

So it was very fitting that the  Director, Jim Kennedy, should have wanted the Museum to have a permanent reminder of her association with this wonderful institution. He commissioned a replica of a bust of Dorothy by Anthony Stone, supported by a grant from the EPA Cephalosporin Fund.

On Monday 10 May 2010 the bust was unveiled in the Museum’s court by Dorothy’s sister Diana Rowley, who at the age of 92 had come all the way from her home in Canada to attend the celebrations.

Diana Rowley (in red jacket) at the unveiling of a bust of Dorothy Hodgkin in the court (photo by Monica Price)

Dorothy finally took her place among the great and good of science, the only woman there alongside Newton, Darwin, Galileo and many others.

Miranda Cook as Dorothy Hodgkin in Hidden Glory

Some time last year I rashly offered to write a one-woman show about Dorothy to entertain the guests before the unveiling. The Museum generously supported the idea, with funding from the EPA Cephalosporin Fund and Diamond Light Source.

Writing the script proved to be only a tiny fraction of the task as I also had to recruit a professional actress, director and technical team to put it on. Somehow everything fell into place, and so Monday saw the premiere of Hidden Glory: Dorothy Hodgkin In Her Own Words, performed by Miranda Cook and directed by Abbey Wright in the Museum lecture theatre.

Working with such a talented creative team has been extraordinary for me – it is such a contrast to the rather solitary life I have been leading as a writer up till now. And the response has been so enthusiastic that we are now planning to take the show to other venues around the country.

Dr Michele Warren, Oxford-Diamond Research Facilitator, worked with colleagues at Diamond to put together an exhibition on crystallography then and now to accompany the performance. Guests were intrigued by the box of  ‘Beevers-Lipson strips’ that crystallographers used to make their calculations before the advent of computers, and made their own penicillin model out of plastic ball-and-stick components.

Many of Dorothy’s family and former colleagues came to the celebration, which I am certain will be one of the highlights of my year as Writer in Residence.

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