Over the past twenty years I have been interested in the possibility of using X-ray crystallographic methods to find the arrangement of the atoms in protein molecules and particularly in insulin. One of many possible approaches to solving this problem seems to be the crystallographic study of naturally occurring peptides such as the gramicidins and tyrocidine... These all have molecules much smaller in size than even the smallest protein molecules; some indeed are smaller than vitamin B12, of which we have already found it possible to obtain the kind of information we require... We already have evidence that there may be a connexion between the way the peptide chain is folded in gramicidin S and the way it is folded in part of the molecule of insulin. But even if later we find that the connexion in chain configuration is less close than we at present suppose, we think that the atomic arrangement in these peptide molecules is itself of great interest and some importance.

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin

From Nature 10 December 1955.


The death-knell of the atom 1

Old Time is a-flying; the atoms are dying; Come list to their parting oration:— “We'll soon disappear to a heavenly sphere On account of our disintegration.

“Our action's spontaneous in atoms uranious Or radious, actinious or thorious: But for others, the gleam of a heaven-sent beam Must encourage their efforts laborious.

“For many a day we've been slipping away While the savants still dozed in their slumbers; Till at last came a man with gold-leaf and tin can And detected our infinite numbers.”

From Nature 7 December 1905.

1Sung at the Chemical Laboratory dinner at University College, November 17.