Nobel Prize winning Chemist Dorothy Hodgkin honoured with Blue Plaque at her old school in Beccles

Dr Dorothy Hodgkin at Sir John Leman High School Prizegiving 1981

Dr Dorothy Hodgkin at Sir John Leman High School Prizegiving 1981 - Credit: Archant

The Society of Biology unveiled the plaque outside a laboratory in the school which is also named after the scientist.

The unveiling of a plaque to Dorothy Hodgkin by her son Luke Hodgkin (left) and Professor Sir Tom Bl

The unveiling of a plaque to Dorothy Hodgkin by her son Luke Hodgkin (left) and Professor Sir Tom Blundell (right) with students Courtney Layzell and Emily Coleman at the Sir John Leman High School, Beccles. - Credit: N.

As the only British woman to have won a Nobel Prize in the sciences, you may think that Dorothy Hodgkin would be a household name.

Outside of scientific circles however she is a somewhat forgotten figure.

Dorothy Hodgkin was a leading scientist who developed a process called protein crystallography, for which she was won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964. She is one of only four woman chemists ever and still the only British woman to win a Nobel Prize in the sciences.

On Thursday, March 12 she was honoured at her old school in Beccles, Suffolk with a Blue Plaque presented by the Society of Biology.

The unveiling of a plaque to Dorothy Hodgkin by her son Luke Hodgkin and Professor Sir Tom Blundell

The unveiling of a plaque to Dorothy Hodgkin by her son Luke Hodgkin and Professor Sir Tom Blundell at the Sir John Leman High School, Beccles. - Credit: N.

The science block and a new laboratory at the Sir John Leman School have already been named after their most famous student.

Mayor of Beccles, Caroline Topping, who went to the school 52 years after Dorothy left, said: 'It is a great honour to be here as this plaque is unveiled as Dorothy one of the most accomplished scientists this country has ever produced.'

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MP for Waveney, Peter Aldous, said: 'There are few people who have really changed the world, but Dorothy Hodgkin is one of them. Her work has saved countless lives worldwide.'

Dorothy's son, Luke Hodgkin, who unveiled the plaque said his mother was always fond of the area where she was brought up.

Dorothy Hodgkin with Margaret Thatcher. Date: 1994. Picture: EDP Library

Dorothy Hodgkin with Margaret Thatcher. Date: 1994. Picture: EDP Library - Credit: Archant

'There is nature all around you here and it makes which made my mother very aware of her surroundings and think on the things that are worth preserving and saw the value of science as part of that.'

A fellow chemist who worked closely with Dorothy at Oxford, Professor Sir Tom Blundell, was also at the unveiling.

Professor Blundell said: 'When I found myself in Dorothy's lab it was like none I had seen before. It was a truly multi-national workplace which was very ahead of its time.'

He added: 'She brought a lot of women into science, into Margaret Thatcher, who although they had very different politics, she stayed in touch with throughout her life.'

• Do you know any forgotten heroes of our region? Email george.ryan@archant.co.uk

The life and career of Dorothy Hodgkin

She was born in Cairo in May, 1910 where here father, John Winter Crowfoot, worked in the Egyptian Education Service.

Most of her childhood was spent at Geldeston, Norfolk with her sisters and from 1921-28 she went to the Sir John Leman School, Beccles.

She was fascinated by crystals from a young age at it was at school where she discovered her love of science.

Her teacher, Miss Deeley, 'allowed' her and one other girl to take chemistry with the boys.

She excelled and went on to read Chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford in 1928. Woman had only been allowed to become full members of the University since 1920.

She began research in X-ray crystallography which was to become her forte.

After two years spent at Cambridge, she returned to Oxford in 1934 where she spent the rest of her career.

She began to study biological materials using X-ray crystallography and with Sir Robert Robinson and began to research the make up of penicillin and Vitamin B12.

In 1946 she became a founding member of the International Union of Crystallography which led her to visit China, the USSR and the USA, which she would later be barred from entering because of her left wing politics.

She was banned from entering the US in 1953 and subsequently not allowed to visit the country except by CIA waiver.

In 1937 she married Thomas Hodgkin, a historian and well known member of the Communist Party. They had three children, Toby, Liz and Luke, together.

She was only the second woman to receive the Order of Merit in 1965 preceded by Florence Nightingale.

The Order or Merit is the highest accolade that can be awarded by the Queen and is limited to 24 living recipients. Dorothy was entered after a vacancy caused by the death of Winston Churchill.

She was also involved in a wide range of peace and humanitarian causes and was especially concerned for the welfare of scientists and people living in nations defined as adversaries by the USA and the UK in the 60s and 70s.

As president of the Pugwash Society she visited Vietnam to show solidarity with those affected by the war which she publicly denounced.

Every year since 1999 a Dorothy Hodgkin Memorial Lecture has been held at Sommerville College and she was remembered on the first class stamp in 1996 and again in 2010.

Political chemistry: Margaret Thatcher and Dorothy Hodgkin

It was always a surprising relationship.

Dorothy Hodgkin was a left-wing peace campaigner who was awarded the Soviet equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Order of Lenin, and president of the group of anti-war scientists the Pugwash Society.

Mrs Thatcher was a right-wing neo-liberal who started the process of privatising public services and was pro nuclear weapons.

The pair met when Margaret Hilda Roberts arrived at Somerville College in 1943 to study Chemistry.

She was tutored by Dr Hodgkin and they kept in touch for many years after.

Thatcher hung a picture of the crystallographer at 10 Downing Street and Dr Hodgkin made use of her connection to try to influence the prime-minister on issues of nuclear disarmament and world peace.

Professor Blundell, who spoke at the unveiling of the blue plaque in Beccles, recounted a time in 1986 when they were discussing the Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev.

'Dorothy said: 'I really wish Margaret would not criticise Gorbachev so much and see what a good man he is.''

He explained how Dr Hodgkin then wrote a letter to the prime minister outlining her thoughts and Thatcher replied inviting her to Chequers.

We do not know what was said but shortly afterwards the prime minister visited the Soviet Union - an historic visit which garnered Mrs Thatcher hug presence on the world stage.

During her trip she visited the Institute of Crystallography and sent Dorothy pictures from her trip.

It is not certifiable but the process started by Thatcher's visit means that Dr Hodgkin be responsible for the rapprochement which led to the ending of the Cold War.

A play was even made for Radio 4 last August about the relations between the two.

Adam Ganz wrote 'The Chemistry Between Them' depicting a friendship which overcame politics.

Dorothy's granddaughter Katharine Hodgkin, however, refuted their portrayed closeness saying her grandmother did not have a very high opinion of Thatcher both as a chemist nor as a politician in which she deeply disapproved.

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