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Molecular model of penicillin by Dorothy M Crowfoot Hodgkin, England, 1945

Penicillin was successful as an antibiotic and treatment for infection well before scientists knew its chemical nature. Chemist and crystallographer Dorothy M Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910-1994) used large punch-card operated tabulators, predecessor to the computer, to help analyse the patterns cast by reflected X-rays. This technique is known as X-ray crystallography. Hodgkin later won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1964 “for her determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances”.

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Glossary: penicillin

The first antibiotic drug to treat infections which is made from the mould penicillium. Its discovery is attributed to Alexander Fleming in 1928.

Glossary: semisynthetic

a substance that is prepared synthetically but derives from a naturally occurring material

Glossary: molecular model

a physical model that represents molecules and their processes and structures

Glossary: x-ray crystallography

The method of using X-rays to discover the molecular structure of crystals. It relies on X-ray diffraction, which is the information gained by studying the pattern produced by the scattering of an X-ray beam as it hits the atomic structure of a crystal.

Glossary: Nobel Prize

Awarded annually for outstanding work in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, economics, and the promotion of peace.