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Dorothy Crowfoot

And the X-ray crystallography


Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin (El Cairo, British Empire, 12-5-1910. – Shiptons-on-Stour, United Kingdom, 29-7-1994) was a chemist and an awarded British university teacher who won the Nobel Prize of Chemistry in 1964.

Dorothy Crowfoot was born in Cairo on May 12th, 1910 where her father, John Winter Crowfoot, was working in the Egyptian Education Service. He moved soon afterwards to the Sudan, where he later became both Director of Education and of Antiquities.

Dorothy visited the Sudan as a girl in 1923, and acquired a strong affection for the country. After his retirement from the Sudan in 1926, her father dedicated most of his time to archaeology, working for some years as Director of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem.

Her mother, Grace Mary Crowfoot (born Hood) was actively involved in all her father's work, and became an authority in her own right on early weaving techniques. She was also a very good botanist and drew in her spare time the illustrations for Sudan´s official Flora.

Dorothy Crowfoot spent some months between school and university with her parents, excavating at Jerash and drawing mosaic pavements, and she enjoyed the experience so much, that she seriously considered giving up chemistry for archaeology.


She became interested in chemistry and in crystals at about the age of 10, and this interest was encouraged by Dr. A.F. Joseph, a friend of her parents in the Sudan, who gave her chemicals and helped her during her stay in the country to analyse ilmenite. She had to crystallize the substance under study, shoot X-rays at the crystal, and then study the way the X-rays were diffracted off the planes of the crystal’s structure. The technique, which involves a lot of mathematical analysis, was developed by Bragg and his son, William Lawrence Bragg, with whom shared the 1915 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work.