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History of Cambridge Biochemistry

History of Cambridge Biochemistry

These pages comprise the first phase of a project to tell the story of Biochemistry in Cambridge from its earliest inception to the present day.

There are two parts to the story. The first is a general description of how the Department came into being, the buildings it has occupied and the major figures who shaped its development. The second is the scientific account of how seeds of work initiated in the Department have been developed in laboratories across the world during the past 100 years to have major impacts on contemporary plant biochemistry and biomedical science.

These stories complement an archive of the associated written and photographic material. The photographs are in album form (Volume 1 and Volume 2) with a comprehensive index linking in to individual pictures in an archive generated by Francis Ambler.

In this first phase, the brief history is essentially confined to the years before the Second World War. We welcome any comments, amendments or contributions, especially from past or present members of the Department.

Forward to History part 1: An outline

Robin Hesketh, June 2011

An outline

As the nineteenth century drew to a close there began to emerge a new science – the study of the chemistry of living organisms, otherwise known as biological chemistry, that was to evolve into Biochemistry. The first University departments bearing that name and hence being chaired by a Professor were established in Liverpool and at University College, London. The first of these, in Liverpool, was established in 1902 and headed by Benjamin Moore, part of whose legacy was the foundation of the Biochemical Journal. Moore’s son, Thomas, became the first deputy director of the MRC Dunn Nutritional Laboratory. Sir Jack Drummond, a pioneer of research on vitamins, became the first Professor of Biochemistry in the University of London in 1922.

The coming of Hopkins and the years before 1924

In Cambridge Arthur Sheridan Lea had begun to carry out research on chemical physiology and he taught the first courses on metabolism and digestion, started in 1882. By the 1890s Michael Foster was also working as a chemical physiologist in the Physiological Laboratory and it was he who invited Frederick Gowland Hopkins in 1898 to come to Cambridge and develop that subject in his laboratory. Hopkins was born on June 20th. 1861 in Eastbourne. His father died when he was very young and in 1871 he moved with his mother to Enfield and attended the City of London School. Having published his first paper at the age of seventeen, he studied chemistry at the Royal School of Mines and at University College, London. After his B.Sc. he read medicine at Guy’s Hospital, graduating in 1894. He worked for a period as a Home Office analyst and taught physiology and toxicology at Guy’s for four years. It was at a Physiological Society meeting that Sir Michael Foster suggested he came to Cambridge.

F. G. HopkinsGiven the impact that Hopkins was to make on the world of science, it might reasonably be claimed that Foster’s initiative led to one of the most important appointments ever made by the University of Cambridge. It will surprise no one subsequently associated with that august institution that, however enthusiastic it may have been, the University declared that it had no funds available to support this enterprise. To its eternal credit the Physiological Laboratory provided the initial stipend.

Hopkins began his Cambridge career by teaching physiology and anatomy. In 1902 the alert department in Liverpool offered him a chair in Biochemistry, whereupon the physiologists made another critical contribution by persuading the University to make him a Reader. In 1906 the University established a Professorship of biological chemistry, first held by the proto-zoologist G.H.F.Nuttall as Director of the Molteno Institute, and in 1909 the Special Board for Medicine agreed to propose a personal Chair in Biochemistry, as already created at Liverpool. In November 1914 Hopkins was elected.

By 1898 Hopkins, working with Sydney W. Cole, had discovered tryptophan which led eventually to the concept of essential amino acids. In the Physiological Laboratory he began to work on the chemical composition of muscle and ‘accessory food factors’, that is, vitamins, which led to his being awarded the 1929 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

In 1914 the embryonic biochemistry department moved into space that had been vacated by the Physiological Laboratory. The University gave £1,500 for fitting out, £500 for equipment and (in 1915) £600 from the Medical School grant from the Board of Education. Hopkins was adviser to the Royal Society Food (War) Committee and was carrying out nutritional research aimed at helping the war effort. Nevertheless fears were expressed that taking government money would invite their interference in running the University. Other research in that period, funded by the MRC, focused on bacteriology.

When the war ended the numbers working in the laboratory in Corn Exchange Street rose quite rapidly. One of the first new recruits, in 1918, was also one of the most remarkable. Whilst still a student taking Part II Physiology, Rudolph Peters had showed that in oxyhaemoglobin one molecule of labile oxygen is united with one atom of iron. When war broke out he completed his degree in medicine at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and became the medical officer in the 60th Rifles. He served with them at Delville Wood, Vimy Ridge and Beaumont Hamel, winning a Military Cross and bar and being mentioned in dispatches. He was recalled from the front in 1917 to work at Porton Down on chemical warfare. Among other things, he showed that small amounts of thallium salts in the medium of Paramecium made the ciliate protozoa reverse their ciliary action, prompting a visiting General to exclaim ‘What! A gas that makes the enemy go backwards!’ In the 1929 Harben Lecture he said ‘The fact that the cell contents are often quite fluid can be reconciled with the fact that the living cell shows a continuous directive power by the view that protein surfaces in the cell constitute a mosaic form which radiate chains of molecules, controlled by their attachment to the central mosaic. These constitute a fluid anatomy in the cell, and the central mosaic behaves as a kind of central nervous system’. With Hopkins Rudolph Peters carried out early pioneering work on vitamins. From 1923 to 1954 he was Whitney Professor of Biochemistry at Oxford, after which he returned to Cambridge. During the Second World War he developed an antidote to the gas Lewisite. In 1964 he showed that fluoracetate, which had been produced as a commercial insecticide, was toxic, eventually persuading the Ministry of Agriculture to ban it.

The immediate post-war period saw the New Zealander Huia Onslow (his father had been governor of New Zealand) working on pigmentation and Muriel Wheldale establishing the field of plant biochemistry, working particularly on chloroplasts. In 1919 they became husband and wife, the first, but by no means the last, intra-departmental marriage. Onslow had been paralysed in a diving accident but despite this ran a research programme in chemical genetics from a laboratory constructed in his own home.

The years between 1914 and 1924 saw soaring numbers of students (towards 500/term) and much debate over the inclusion of Biochemistry as a Tripos subject. The 1920/21 class included Malcolm Dixon and also Barbara Hopkins, one of the Professor’s two daughters. Joseph Needham was one of the class of 1921/22. In 1921 the University introduced degrees for women, encouraged no doubt by Hopkins who had always been a keen supporter of women in science and had taken many women on in the department by the early 1920s. His opinion clearly conflicted with that of the writer for Chemistry and Industry who observed 'It {the new institute} is probably too much the resort of women students, who cannot be expected to bring to the study of the subject that breadth and originality of outlook and the acute powers of observation that are essential to progress.'

J. B. S. HaldaneIn 1920 the Trustees for the estate of Sir William Dunn provided funds for the University to establish a School of Biochemistry. Dunn was a Scottish banker and merchant, born in Paisley, for which constituency he became a Liberal Member of Parliament (there’s a statue of him in the town). He made his fortune in South Africa and, having no heirs, left it to charity for, among other things, ‘the support of hospitals, as well as to alleviate human suffering and to encourage education.’ The money contributed by the Trustees was to establish a Chair of Biochemistry (The Sir William Dunn Professorship) and also to provide a building to house the new Department of Biochemistry. In 1922 the Trustees made a further endowment in the form of a Readership, a position first held by the legendary J.B.S.Haldane. Haldane’s father and various others of his family were physiologists but he read Mathematics and Greats at Oxford. As a student he had mastered Greek, Latin, French and German, he fought with manic bravery in the First World War and became a popular science writer and broadcaster (in 1923, for heaven's sake, he pointed out that we would run out of coal as a source of power and should build a network of hydrogen-generating windmills!). He joined the Communist Party in 1940 and was on the editorial board of the Daily Worker before leaving in 1950 in protest over Lysenkoism. No less a figure than Sir Peter Medawar described him as ‘the cleverest man I ever met’ and he made contributions to the study of enzymes and the field of genetics that are influential to this day.  It is well known that he had a habit of doing experiments on himself (there’s a great photo in the accompanying archive of him locked in a spasm having injected himself with tetanus to ‘see what would happen’). He also had a habit of consuming large numbers of sugar lumps at tea which led to someone trying an experiment on him of which he was unaware. Dorothy Needham witnessed the tea-time entertainment in which holes had been bored in several sugar lumps and then filled with quinine. She averred that JBS ‘gobbled the lumps as usual without showing the slightest sign of noticing anything out of the way.’ Haldane was a dab hand at writing rhymes but it was an anonymous author who commemorated his tea-time trait, at the same time immortalizing one of the department’s long line of distinguished tea ladies:

How rude of the reader
To put on his feeder
And eat so much sugar at tea;
But Olive has spotted
His manners besotted
And double his tea bill will be.

All who have followed Haldane as employees of Cambridge University are indebted to him for having an adulterous affair with a married lady which, when it became public in 1925, led to his dismissal by the Sex Viri (the University moral guardians – dubbed by JBS as “Sex Weary”) for ‘gross or habitual immorality’. He contested the charge, won and was reinstated – thereby establishing henceforth the principle of University non-interference in the private life of its staff. Although critically neutered as a result of JBS’s battle, the Sexviri became the Septemviri, the continuing existence of which can be confirmed by consulting the Statutes And Ordinances Of The University Of Cambridge Matriculation, Residence, Admission to Degrees, Discipline. When asked in an interview for the department magazine ‘When are you at your best?’ JBS replied: ‘My optimum pH is obtained by saturating a 25% aqueous solution of ethanol with CO2 (yes, Mr. Editor, you can get iced champagne for 4/- a bottle in Paris)’; ‘When are you at your worst?’ ‘There is no evidence that the depths of my potential iniquity have been plumbed’; ‘Do you think life worth living?’ ‘Yes, but I do not think the majority of resting bugs, dons and bacteriophages are alive. My answer only applies to higher organisms’.

By 1922 there were 47 research workers in Hopkins’s group and in that year the Low Temperature Research Station (LTRS) opened with William Hardy (Director of Food Investigation at the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research) as its Superintendent. This came about because of a recommendation by the Food Investigation Board to set up a ‘cold storage laboratory’ and, given the research environment that owed much to Hopkins, Cambridge was the obvious place for it. One of the early research topics was post-mortem changes in meat that had been initiated by Hopkins and Fletcher in their study of the formation of lactic acid in muscle published in 1907. A later Director, Dr. E.C.Bate-Smith, recalls the Downing Site when it was built: ‘A continuous avenue of lime trees stretched from the School of Agriculture to the spacious court of Downing College. Where the Geography Department now stands was a small school of forestry; otherwise the only other buildings were the Molteno Institute of Parasitology and some huts and styes belonging to the School of Agriculture.’ Some of the photographs in the accompanying archive indeed show very clearly the park-like appearance of the Downing Site in those days.

In the 1940s Kenneth Bailey, working in the LTRS, revealed the critical role of calcium in muscle contraction and it was in the same building that Max Perutz experimented on the properties of ice as part of the abortive Habakkuk project to make icebergs that could be floated into strategic locations as aircraft landing strips.

In 1967 the Institute of Food Research was set up in Norwich and the Meat Research Institute at Long Ashton, with LTRS staff as their nuclei. LTRS, often referred to as ‘the Hardy Building’, then became, in effect, an extension of the main building and it housed a substantial proportion of the department for the next 30 years until, in 1997, they were persuaded to leave their salubrious surroundings for the new Sanger Building.

In the year after the LTRS was opened, 1923, Malcolm Dixon was appointed a Senior Demonstrator.

1924 was perhaps the most important year in the history of the department because it saw the opening of the new Dunn Institute that was to be the main building of the Department of Biochemistry until 1997, and is now named after Hopkins. The opening was on 9th. May by Lord Balfour, the Chancellor of the University. Somewhat astutely, rather than giving the money to the University, the Sir William Dunn Trustees gave the building itself which had been designed according to their wishes and in particular to the those of their Chairman, Sir Jeremiah Colman. The cost was £165,000 and the building was ‘launched’ by the Canadian J.Murray Luck who left water running through a condenser when he went home: the ensuing leak soaked the beautiful plaster ceiling below and shorted out the entire electrical supply. The Library was established on the express wish of Jeremiah Colman, an alumnus of St. John’s, who developed Colman’s mustard from the enterprise started by his Dad in a village just down the road from the present home of the Institute of Food Research.

For the new building Hopkins commissioned four wood carvings by way of decoration. These were of John Mayow {the 17th. century physician who showed respiration and combustion to consume something from air}, Thomas Graham {the 19th. century chemist who coined the term colloid}, Louis Pasteur {this carving showing di-symmetric crystals}, and Justus von Liebig {the 19th. chemist and teacher, the carving including sheaves of corn reflecting his interest in agricultural chemistry}. These can still be seen mounted on the columns in the library reading room. As if all that wasn’t enough, the Part II Biochemistry teaching course was introduced.

Next page: The Hopkins Building jubilee celebrations
Previous page: Introduction

The Hopkins Building jubilee celebrations

It is interesting to pause for a moment to look back at those early years through the words of members of the department in 1924 who spoke at the Jubilee celebrations in 1974. Professor Malcom Dixon summarized the history of the area from long before the Physiological Laboratory came into existence by noting that in the fifteenth century Downing Street was known as Landgrythes Lane and that the first stretch from Trumpington Road follows the line of the King’s Ditch which was the outer defence of the town. The address of the department has its origins in a private lane from Downing Street to the real tennis court building that from 1565 until the early years of the nineteenth century was situated near the present position of the back gate of Pembroke College. The Downing Site itself was originally called Swinecroft after the Swyn family or St. Thomas’s Leys, after St. Thomas’s Hostel next to Pembroke.

Professor Malcolm DixonDixon went on to remind everyone that 50 years before the new building was constructed the University had no laboratories. A few colleges had their own laboratories in the period when they, the colleges, taught science rather than the University. The mahogany bench of the main lecture theatre was a relic of this period, rescued by Hopkins from the St. John’s College laboratory. The New Museums site was originally the grounds of an Augustinian Friary (occupying the area from Bene’t Street to Downing Street and from Free School Lane to Corn Exchange Street). When the friary dissolved it was bought by the Vice-Master of Trinity for £1,600 in 1760 – and given to the University as its Botanical Garden. This became the site for two or three houses for Professors of Science to keep their own collections of specimens and apparatus and to give lectures, which thus became the ‘New Museums’. The removal of the Botanical Gardens to their present site provided space for laboratories including, in 1876, for Physiology and Comparative Anatomy adjacent to Corn Exchange Street. In 1914 this became the first home of the Department.

Malcolm Dixon was born in 1899 and, as a local boy, he went to the Perse School in Free School Lane. This was the ‘Free School’ established by Dr. Stephen Perse in the 17th century, the original school hall of which now houses the Whipple Museum of the History of Science. It was in the year of his birth that the University bought the northern half of the Downing Site. This was sold by the Downing trustees because, having bought all the land between Downing Street and Lensfield Road to build a college of great magnificence, they discovered they had insufficient funds. So the plan was to build laboratories on that land to relieve the growing congestion on the New Museums site. In a way that was to become familiar down the years, there was much opposition to the scheme because it was held to be inconceivable that science could ever need that much space and, in any case, no one would wish to use a site so far from the town. 

After the department outgrew its space in Corn Exchange Street, at which Elsie Bulley would arrive on horse back, it moved in 1919 to the Balfour Laboratory in Downing Place in what later became the Music School. This had been built in 1790 as a non-conformist chapel before, in 1884, it was opened as the Balfour Biological Laboratory for Women for the benefit of students of Newnham and Girton Colleges taking the Natural Science Tripos. Biochemistry shared this laboratory for four years before the department had to move out in 1923 which caused some difficulties because the new building was not completed for its official opening until 1924. That might have been even later, as it emerged when building was well under way that it was in the wrong place, being some fifteen feet north of its allocated site. The view was taken that it was too late to move it but a consequence of the mistake can be seen to this day in the form of the right angle bend at the Pembroke end of what is now the Department of Genetics.

Malcolm Dixon observed that the design of the building reflected the science of the time. As you could not then buy biochemicals you had to make them, so there were hot rooms for running tryptic digests but no cold rooms. As for equipment, there were incubators but no refrigerators: ice was acquired in large blocks from the fishmonger.

On the subject of buildings and conditions it’s worth recalling the words of Sir Rudolph Peters on the subject of the unrivalled research work that Hopkins and his colleagues carried out in the original building shared with physiology to the effect that, in retrospect, this seemed astonishing because the conditions were ‘by any standards appalling’. To give a flavour he observed that ‘Every room, I suppose, except that of Professor Langley and that in which Hopkins worked with S.W.Cole, was a passage. As will always be the case, it was the people that counted – there was a unique research atmosphere, – so much so that E.Mellanby, who became the second secretary of the MRC said that any young man entering that laboratory was “doomed to research”. I could elaborate, but I will confine myself to the cellars. At the bottom of the steps, there was a darkish room containing some of Hopkins rats. Turning left there was a slit of a room, quite dark, where A.V.Hill worked, and going through this one came to the small cellar for the distinguished neurophysiologist Keith Lucas who was responsible for the aerial compass (during the First World War when he worked at the Royal Aircraft Establishment). Going back to the central room, at the bottom of the stairs, there was a cave for the frogs, extensively used both in class, and also in muscle biochemistry, and beyond this the incredible centrifuge – the only one we had, which took up a cubic space of 12 ft. each way, and was run by a gas engine.

Sir Rudolph PetersOf Hopkins, Peters observed ‘I have never known anyone who would listen so attentively to a person who was talking to him as the Professor; this was equally true for the young or the old. He was astonishingly receptive and able to visualize the future of what you were saying. In spite of his busy life as Tutor, we found in the Part II class that he had not only read the literature; but that he had, as he said, “appraised it”. He was a remarkable mixture of a critical mind with immense human sympathy, so that in a way he was often at war with himself. During the morning, when I might want to consult him on some point connected with the laboratory, large numbers of folk from the University would collect outside his room, – many of them to weep on his shoulder. He was always sympathetic. I like the picture of him best which was published in my Hopkins Memorial lecture. The peering look is so characteristic. There is one story of the Professor, which I only heard 4 years ago, from Professor C.G.King, in a restaurant in Zurich. King isolated vitamin C independently of Szent-Gyogi, and is a Professor in the U.S.A. He was in the laboratory about 1929 for a period. One day in the library, which in those days had some bookcases sticking out into the room, he heard someone pacing up and down behind one of the cases. He was surprised to find that this was Hopkins, with his hands behind his back, characteristically. The Professor said to him, “You know, King, I should much like to feel that I had done something really important…” The next day came the announcement of his Nobel prize.

Reminiscing about the building, Malcom Dixon referred to Steegman’s book on Cambridge architecture, the author’s comments on the Downing site in general and on the Biochemistry building in particular. ‘This extraordinarily depressing area is one of the most intense concentrations of scientific knowledge in England… But nobody would imagine, if he did not already know, that these meaningless shapes are really laboratories and museums which draw students and scholars from over the whole world. They might be banking houses or the dwellings of Edwardian millionaires or liberal clubs… There are, however, one or two of these institutions which do not actually hurt the critical spectator. The Institute of Biochemistry in Tennis Court Road, designed by Sir Edwin Cooper in 1923, is exceedingly stylish, though what style it is supposed to be is not certain, nor can one be certain when looking at the outside as to what function this very self-conscious pink-and-white edifice is intended to perform’. To which Dixon added: ‘This was before we stuck the New Wing on the back.’

Next page: The Sir William Dunn Institute of Biochemistry 1924-1945
Previous page: An outline

The Sir William Dunn Institute of Biochemistry 1924-1945

Following the opening of the new building Hopkins invited the Hungarian physiologist Albert Szent-Györgyi to Cambridge in 1926 and he received a Ph.D. in 1927. He was to win the 1937 Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of vitamin C and for his work on the citric acid cycle. Szent-Györgyi returned to Hungary to work with the resistance movement during the war and afterwards entered politics. In 1927 the Dunn Nutritional Laboratory, now the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit, was set up as off-shoot of Biochemistry.

From the early 1920s John Desmond Bernal had been working with Sir William Bragg developing X-ray crystallography. During his time in Cambridge he had close links with Hopkins’s laboratory, working on the structures of vitamin B1, vitamin D2, sterols and tobacco mosaic virus. With Dorothy Hodgkin in 1934 he generated the first X-ray pictures of hydrated protein crystals. Bernal was, of course, prominent in political life, a sometime member of the Communist Party and active in the Association of Scientific Workers. Dorothy Hodgkin took part in 1933 Armistice Day march (with Joseph Needham) to protest against war and militarisation of research. They were reported by the London Evening Standard as “hooligans” after having eggs thrown at them by members of the Cambridge University Conservative Association. 

In 1931 Malcolm Dixon, David Keilin (who succeeded Nuttall as Professor and Director of the Molteno Institute) and Robin Hill obtained the first absorbance spectrum of isolated cytochrome c. Much later, in 1960, Robin Hill was to describe the energy profile of photosynthesis in the form of his Z scheme.

Although presiding over the development of his department, Hopkins’s breadth of view extended far beyond science and he was acutely aware of the political events that were changing the world. This perception led him in 1933 to establish the Academic Assistance Council (later Society for Protection of Science and Learning) that found places for refugees from Germany. In 1932 Hans Krebs and Kurt Henseleit had published their papers describing the urea cycle and Hopkins had described this completely novel work to the Royal Society in that year. At that time Krebs was working in the medical clinic of the University of Freiburg. Following the election of the National Socialists in 1933 Jews were forbidden to teach in universities or practice in University hospitals. In April 1933 Krebs was placed on leave of absence and then dismissed at end of June 1933. However, by early April FGH had written to Krebs offering him shelter. Krebs left Freiburg for Cambridge in June 1933. In 1934 he was appointed a University Demonstrator and he remained in Cambridge until 1945 when he became Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Sheffield.

Hans KrebsKrebs was the first in a long line of extraordinarily gifted scientists who fled Europe for Cambridge under Hopkins’s auspices that included Friedman, Lemberg, Chain, Weil-Malherbe, Bach and Lehmann. The last named of these, Hermann Lehmann, worked in the department from 1936 to 1940, initially on carbohydrate metabolism. In May 1940 he was interned at Huyton together with a number of other luminaries including Max Perutz. Using his contacts FGH managed to get him released in October, whereupon Lehmann started work in the Emergency Medical Service. In 1943, with the support of Sir Charles Sherrington, he received a commission in the RAMC, was posted to India, became Assistant Director of Pathology and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. After the war he became the leading authority on abnormal haemoglobins and was University Biochemist at Addenbrooke’s from 1963 and Professor of Clinical Biochemistry from 1967.

The academic year 1934-35 saw the introduction of Part I Biochemistry and in 1938 Robert Alexander McCance became the first Reader in Clinical Biochemistry. McCance was a founder member of the Nutrition Society, serving on the Editorial Board. From 1938 to 1941 Richard Synge worked in the department as an International Wool Secretariat Research Student: after moving to Leeds he shared with A.J.P.Martin, also a former member of the department, the 1952 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the invention of partition chromatography. During the Second World War Malcolm Dixon became Head of extramural research, working primarily on poison gases and antidotes. This continued into his post-war study of enzyme inhibition. In 1943 Peter Mitchell joined Dixon’s team and for his subsequent formulation of the chemiosmotic theory he won the 1978 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

With a prescience remarkable even by Hopkins’s standards, back in the 1920s he had persuaded a young student to give up medicine to work in biochemistry. The student was Joseph Needham and by 1931 he had published his three-volume work Chemical Embryology. In 1924 Needham married Dorothy Moyle who had been recruited by Hopkins in 1919 to work on muscle biochemistry and substrate-level phosphorylation. When she was elected an FRS in 1948 they became the first husband and wife to be so honoured, Needham having been elected in 1941. When three Chinese scientists came to work with Needham in 1937 he fell in love with one of them, Lu Gwei-djen, which event prompted him to master Classical Chinese to the extent that from 1942 to 1946 he was Director of the Sino-British Science Co-operation Office in Chongqing. Needham essentially devoted the rest of his life to revealing the history of Chinese science in all its aspects, complied in the 27 volumes of Science and Civilisation in China

In 1940 Fred Sanger joined the department on a Beit Memorial Fellowship. He won the 1958 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for obtaining the first sequence of a protein and, after moving to the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, shared the 1980 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Walter Gilbert for nucleic acid sequencing. In 1943 the plant biochemist Albert Charles Chibnall FRS, who had worked in Drummond’s UCL lab, succeeded Hopkins as Sir William Dunn Professor. In 1945 Marjory Stephenson became the first female FRS for her work on bacterial oxidation, at the same time as the X-ray crystallographer Kathleen Lonsdale. Stephenson’s work on microbial metabolism was continued by Ernest H.Gale who became Professor of Chemical Microbiology in 1960 and remained a member of the department until his retirement in 1981.

Next: The legacy of Hopkins
Previous: The Hopkins Building jubilee celebrations

The legacy of Hopkins

The Hopkins BuildingLooking from the twenty-first century at the period of Hopkins’s chairmanship of the department and especially at the inter-war years, the breadth of activity is simply astonishing for what today would be considered to be a small laboratory.  In addition to Hopkins’s own work on mammalian nutrition and redox reactions and other research already mentioned, Rudolf Peters, Francis J.W.Roughton and Robin Hill worked on haem-protein compounds, specifically haemoglobin and cytochromes, Norman Pirie was carrying out pioneering studies on plant viruses and discovering viral RNA, Marjory Stephenson together with Margaret Whetham, the Canadian “Harry” Quastel and Ernest Gale, worked on bacterial metabolism, Dorothy Jordan Lloyd with Pirie, Synge, Bailey and Sanger were protein chemists, whilst Haldane and Rose Scott-Moncrief were inventing biochemical genetics through the study of flower pigments.

All of this was founded on Hopkins’s vision of the way in which biochemical investigation would reveal an underlying unity of biochemical processes across the living world. In equal measure, his extraordinary perception in judging scientists and his gifts as a manager of men and women brought the best from the eclectic group that he assembled, both as individuals and as members of the department. Since that time the many thousands of students and scientists who have passed through Hoppy’s department have trodden a privileged path and all are indebted to the  “Father of British Biochemistry”.

Next: Major events since 1945
Previous: The Sir William Dunn Institute of Biochemistry 1924-1945

Major events since 1945

1947: Death of Hopkins.
1949: Professor Sir Frank G.Young FRS succeeded Chibnall as Sir William Dunn Professor. 1st. International Congress of Biochemistry.
1963: New Wellcome Wing opened.
1975: Professor Sir Hans Kornberg FRS succeeded Frank Young.
1984: Professor Richard Perham FRS succeeded Sir Hans Kornberg as Head of Department.
1985: NMR facility established with Peter Morris as its head.
1995: Professor Sir Tom Blundell, FRS  became Sir William Dunn Professor and Head of Department.
1997: Sanger Building opened (cost £15M). X-ray crystallography facility established with Ben Luisi as its head.
1999: Part III (4th year) Biochemistry teaching course introduced.
2001: Tim Hunt shares Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of cyclins.
2006: Professor Peter Leadlay FRS appointed to the second established Chair, the Herchel Smith Chair of Biochemistry.
2009: Professor Gerard Evan, FRS succeeded Sir Tom Blundell.
2011: Plaque unveiled commemorating life & work of Hopkins


  1. Fuller T. The History of the University of Cambridge: From the Conquest to the Year 1634. (1655). ISBN-10: 1108004652. ISBN-13: 978-1108004657. Cambridge University Press.
  2. Quastel Canadian Journal of Biochemistry 52, 71 (1974).
  3. Steegman’s book on Cambridge architecture: London, Batsford Ltd., 1940, pp. 107-108.
  4. Winchester, Simon. "Bomb, Book, and Compass" ISBN: 0141011580, ISBN-13: 9780141011585, Penguin Books Ltd.
  5. Winchester, Simon. "The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom." (2008). ISBN 978-0-06-088459-8. New York: Harper Collins
  6. The Cambridge Low Temperature Research Station. Science 22 November 1929: 494.
Next: A plaque to celebrate Frederick Hopkins
Previous: The legacy of Hopkins

A plaque to celebrate Frederick Hopkins

A plaque to celebrate the life and work of Frederick HopkinsOn Friday 10 June 2011 a plaque commemorating the founder of the Biochemistry Department, Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins FRS OM, was unveiled at his Cambridge home on Grange Road. The event was co-hosted by the Department and Hopkins' grandson, Nicolas Hawkes. Members of the family, scientists and historians were treated to a series of speeches highlighting both Hopkins' personal and professional sides. In a series of beautiful tributes the audience was left with a clear image of the modesty, empathy and brilliance of Sir Frederick. The plaque itself, made by Mark Bury (whose mother owns Hopkins's old home), was unveiled by one of Hopkins' great-granddaughters.

Visit the photo gallery for this event and the University publicity.

Previous: Major events since 1945

Index to photo albums

Index of Names to Photo Albums 1 & 2

Navigate to  A . B . C . D . E . F . G . H . I . J . K . L . M . N . O . P . Q . R . S . T . U . V . W . Y . Z . 1st International Congress

Page Numbers
Access the complete Volumes through these links =>
ACKROYD, Harold 7
ADAM, Neil K. 18
ADAMS, A. V 20, 21
Advanced Class (1931-32) 58
ALCOCK, Robert S. 58
ALLBUTT, Sir Clifford 24
AMBLER, Richard 67
ANDERSON, A. Bruce 38, 43
ASHFORD, Charles A. 61
ASKONAS, Ita (Brigitte) 39, 41, 47
BACH, Stefan J. 2
BACON, J.S.D 5, 7, 34
BALDWIN, E.H.F 57, 59 4, 6, 7, 24, 35, 38, 54, 65
BALDWIN, Pauline 65
BALFOUR, Lord 24
BAYLISS, Sir William 44
BELL, D.J. 65 24, 34, 35
BENTON, Eric 56 28
BERNHEIM, Frederick 41
BEZNAK, A. von 45
BHAGVAT, Kamala 8
BILLING, Barbara 13
Biochemistry Department, 1961-1962 70
Biochemistry Building 68
Biochemistry Crew Cup Holders, 1950-1951 57
Biochemistry Department 66, 73, 74, 75, 76
Biochemistry Department, 1959-1960 68
Biochemistry Department, 1963-1964 71
Biochemistry Department, 1965-1966 72
Biochemistry Department Cricket Team , 1957 63
Biochemistry Department First Ever Cricket Match , 1956 62
Biochemistry Department Photograph , 1930 56
Biochemistry Department, 1949, State of the Nation 52
Biochemistry Department, 1951, State of the Nation 59
Biochemistry Department, 1955, State of the Nation 61
Biochemistry Staff, War Time, 1943-44 24
Biochemists at The Boat Race, Spring 1949 41
BIRCH, Thomas William 57, 59
BOELL, Edgar J. 9
BOOTH, Vernon 67 8
BOURSNELL, J. 22, 65
BRACHET, Jean 70 9, 30
British-Swiss Medical Conference 54
BULLEY, Elsie (later Mottram) 8, 9
CAJORI, Florian A. 51
CALLOW, Barbara 56
CALLOW, Ernest H. 19, 65
CASE, E. Martin 50
CHAIN, E. 65
CHENG, Mrs 27
CHIBNALL, Professor A.C 24, 40
CHIU, Chiung-Yun 27, 39
Christmas Parties 65
CLARK, Anne Barbara (later Callow) 19
CLIFT, ? 57
COARD, Joan (later Lawrie) 52, 54, 56
COHEN, J.A. 31
COLE, Sydney W. 1, 3, 8, 9, 56, 57, 69
COLMAN, Sir Jeremiah 24
COLWELL, A. 16, 36, 49, 56
CORNISH, Elfrida 8, 9
COWELL, Alfred 56
CROSS, M. 4, 9
DALCQ, Albert 59
DAWSON, C. R. 12
DEWEY, Douglas 56
DIXEY, J. R. B. 20, 21
DIXON, K. C. 67
DIXON, Malcolm 21, 40, 56, 65 13, 21, 22, 24, 35, 36, 40, 64
Dunn Institute 24, 58
ECKER, E. 48
EDGAR, Betty 67
EDSALL, John Tileston 41
Eighth Annual Dunn Dinner, 1934 65
Elementary Class,1931-1932? 57, 58
ELLIOTT, Kenneth A.C. 54, 61
ELVEJHEM, Conrad A 54
ELVEJHEM, Mrs 50, 54
Emmanuel College NS Club, 1905 2
Enzyme Domesday Book 64
Enzyme Unit Special Conference 41
EPPS, Helen 13, 16
FLEISCH, Alfred 19
FLETCHER, Walter Morley 1
FOSTER, Dorothy Lilian (later Palmer) 16, 17, 29
FOX, Denis L. 8
GALE, E.F. 16
GASCOYNE, M.D (later Garner) 20
Gastrulae, dissection of, for Micro-Respirometry 10
GORDON, Lily 29, 40, 56
GREEN, D.E 61, 65, 70 2
GREEN, Pat 13
GREVILLE, Guy 34, 35, 36
GREY, Egerton Charles 16
GUHA, Bires Chandra 57 30
HALDANE, John Burdon Sanderson 23, 29, 35, 36, 56
HALL, Henry W. 14, 15, 20, 49, 56 53
HARDEN, Sir Arthur 10
HARRIS, Leslie J. 21, 23, 65 20, 21
HARRISON, Douglas 27, 57
HARRISON, Kenneth 65
HAYDON, Denis Arthur 21
HELE, Priscilla 20, 21, 39, 41, 47, 59
HELE, Thomas Shirley 12, 29, 36, 56
HENDERSON, Laurence 62
HEYNINGEN, Kits van 61, 70
HICKS, Cedric Stanton 41, 43
HILL, Robin 56 24
HJORT, Johan 20
HOLDEN, Henry Francis 20
HOLMES, Barbara (nee Hopkins) 36, 70 17
HOLMES, Eric 49
HOPKINS, F.G. Pupils and Collaborators, Aug 1949 50
HOPKINS, Sir Frederick Gowland 1, 2, 5, 8, 9, 24, 28, 30, 31, 49, 53, 56, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 25
HOPKINS, Mrs 1, 5, 30, 31, 62, 64
IMPEY, Olive 16, 29, 40, 56
Intermediate Class,1931-32 58
JOHNSON, Fred 56
JOLLEY ‘Charles’ 1, 40, 56
JOLLEY, Fred 29, 56
JORDAN-LLOYD, Dorothy 8, 9, 13, 36 40
JUNG, Tu-Shan 26
KAI, S. 11
KAY, Henry Davenport 29, 34
KEILIN, David 55
KIANG, Peter C. 51
KING, G.G. 51
KITS, W.E. 61
KOCH, Henri 9
KODAMA, Keizo 42
KODICEK, Dr 20, 21
KON, Stanislaw K. 45
KREBS, H.A. 67
LANCEFIELD, Rebecca 52
LASCELLES, Betty (later Waddington) 43
LAWRIE, Norman 65
LEADER, G 49, 56
LEADER, Ruby 26, 56, 65
LEATHES, Prof 57, 58
LEHMANN, Hermann 2, 4, 8, 28
Leicester Lecture,1933 53
LEMBURG, Hanna 59
LEMBURG, Rudolf 40, 59
Linderstrom-Lang Techniques 10
LU , Chih-Te 26
LU, G.D. 4, 7, 8
LU, Gweu-Djen 27
LUCK, Eloise 33
LUCK, James Murray 33
LUSCHER, M. Ery 21
Makarere College, East Africa 28
MANN, P.J.G. 59
MANN, Tadeusz 65 2
MANNOWA, Cecilia Lutwak 2
MAPSON, Leslie W. 58 20, 21
MELDRUM, Norman Urquhart 37, 45, 57
MELLANBY, Sir Edward 30
MIHOLIC, Stanko S. 51
MILLER, Edgar Grim 55
MITCHELL, P.D. 20, 59
MOORE, Dr 20, 21
MORGAN, Edward Jones 15, 16, 31, 49, 56
MOTTRAM, V. Henry 3
MOWL, H. 15, 16, 49, 54, 56
MOYLE, Dorothy Mary (later Needham) 17, 18
MOYLE, Jennifer 36, 39
MOYLE, Vivian 36
MRC Unit for Chemical Microbiology 51
MURRAY, David R.P. 50, 65
MURRAY, Dr Margaret 23
MURRAY, Harry & Mrs 33
MURRAY, Veronica 23
NAYLOR, George William 31, 56
NEEDHAM, Dorothy (nee Moyle) 19, 29, 56, 58, 59, 67 8, 9, 22, 24, 27, 32, 37, 39, 40, 65
NEEDHAM, Joseph 19, 29, 49, 56, 59, 65, 67 4, 8, 9, 20, 21, 22, 26, 27, 29, 30, 65
New Museums Club Exhibitions, 1923 49
NORRIS, Audrey 20, 21, 34, 47
NOWINSKI, W.W. 65 3, 4
OGSTON, Flora (later Philpot) 61, 67
ONSLOW, Huia 6
Opening New Buildings, 1924 24, 25
OSTERN, Paul 65
PARNAS, Professor J.K. 2
PARSONS, Mr 20, 21
PART II Class 64
PART II Class, 1930-31 57
PART II Class, 1937 70
PART II Class, 1939 - 1940 13
PART II Class, 1940 - 1941 13
PART II Class, 1941 - 1942 20, 21
PART II Class, 1942 - 1943 20, 21
PART II Class, Oct 1950 55
PART II Class, 1950 - 1951 58
PART II Class, 1952 60
PERRY, Sam 59
PETERS, Rudolph A. 12
PETT, L.B. 65
PILLAI, R.K. 4, 8
POWNEY, J. Reginald C. 29, 42, 56
QUASTEL, J.H 21, 29
RAISTRICK, Harold 8, 9, 14
RAMSEY, Jane 39
REAY, George A. 41
RICHTER, Derek 65
RIDGEWAY, Sir William 24
ROBINSON, Muriel Elaine (later Adair) 23
SALISBURY, Ivy 12, 53
Nobel Prize Celebrations, Oct 1958
Second World War 11
SEGAL, Biddy 67
SELWYN, J.G. 20, 21
SEN, Kshitish Chandra 57
SETH, Trilok Nath 23, 34
SHEN, Shin-Chang 10
SHERRINGON, Sir Charles 4
Sino-British Science Cooperation Office 26
SLATER, Basil 56, 70 6, 20, 21, 65
SMITH, Mrs H. 56
SNOW, C.P. 9
SPIERS, Henry Michael 8, 9, 13
STEPHENSON, Marjory 17, 33, 56, 60, 65 24, 32
STICKLAND, L.H. 54, 58, 65
SYNGE, Dick 70
SZENT-GYORGYI, Albert 45, 47
TARBIN, Jack 29
TARRM, H.L.A. 61
Temperature Measurements 67
Thermocline Expedition, 1934 67
Thermocline Expedition, 1937 70
Thermocline Expedition, 1938 6
THRING, Jane (later Olson then Mackworth) 13
THUNBERG, Torsten 19
THURLOW, Sylvia (later Harrison) 46
TOSIC, Dr 20
TOTANI, Ginsaburo 8, 9, 11, 14
TRACY, M.V. 13
TREVERTON, Ruth (later van Heyningen) 13
Ts’ao, Tien-Chin 27, 33, 59
UEMAE, T. 15
UNITED NATIONS Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) 29, 30
VINCENT, Rhoda 56
WAELSCH, Herbert 13
WARD, Alfred 14, 15, 43
WARD, Mrs 43
WATCHORN, Elsie 26, 49 35
WATSON, Frances 54
WEBB, E.C 20, 21, 35, 64
WEBER, G. 31, 41
WEIL, H. 67
WHELDALE, Muriel (later Onslow) 8, 9, 15, 56
WHETHAM, Margaret Dampier (later Anderson) 19, 29, 43 (43 as Anderson)
WIGGLESWORTH, Vincent Brian 22, 29
WILLIAMSON, Stanley 56
WINFIELD, George 8, 9, 13
WINTER, Lewis B. 21
WOOD, Alex 2
WOODROW, Cyril E. 22, 29
WOODS, Donald D. 40
WOOLF, Barnet 36
WOOLRIDGE, W. Reginald 38
WORDEN, A.N. 20, 21
WORMALL, Prof 20, 21
WRINCH, Dorothy 60
YALLO (?), Robert 29
YIN, Hung-Chang 33
YOUNG, F.G. 44, 54, 65
YUDKIN, John 57, 59
YUDKIN, Warren H. 20, 38
ZOBELL, Claude E. 38
President: Professor A.C. Chibnall, FRS
Joint Secretary-General: Dr E.H.F. Baldwin
Chief Steward: Miss V. Moyle
Forum 43
Congress Lecture 44
LI, C. H.
Honorary Degrees 45
CORI, Prof. Carl F.
HARINGTON, Sir Charles
Progression to St John’s College after the conferment of Honorary degrees at the Congregation
Public Orator - Prof Adcock
Vice Chancellor Dr C. E. Raven
Master of Christ's College
Garden Party at St John’s College 47
BURTON, Kenneth
MILLS, Barbara
NORRIS, Audrey
CHEAR, Jennifer
HELE, Priscilla
In the Cloisters at St John’s College 48
Professor Carl F. Cori delivering one of the three main Congress Lectures 48
President’s Dinner at Trinity College 48
CORI, Dr Gerty
CORI, Dr Carl
DODDS, Prof E.C.
Congress Garden Party 49
A Party of Congress members at Houghton Mill, Huntingdonshire 49
Carl F. Cori and F. G. Young outside the Senate House 49
Professor Chibnall’s Garden 49

Bioinformatics and Computational Biology: 30 Years

A history also published by St John's College in The Eagle

The link address is:

Lu Gwei-djen

A short biography of Lu Gwei-djen published in The Biochemical Journal as "A great adventure: from quantitative metabolism to the revelation of Chinese science" Hesketh, R. (2012). doi:10.1042/BJ20120049

PDF document icon TRH BJ A Great Adventure...pdf — PDF document, 562 kB (576389 bytes)