Bookmark and Share


[W. L. Duax]This issue includes a long overdue article concerning Dorothy Hodgkin's life and career.

Over a year ago, John Robertson wrote expressing concern that no obituary for Dorothy had ever appeared in the IUCr Newsletter. John agreed to correct the oversight by writing a tribute to Dorothy. Because the wonderful biography of Hodgkin by Georgina Ferry was about to be given wider circulation by a US distributor, Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory Press, it seemed appropriate for John to develop his tribute around a review of the book.

I have been collecting items in the scientific press on women in science and crystallography for years, entertaining the thought of a cover story on the topic. This seemed an opportune time to down load some of that file. (See page 20)

The American Institute of Physics is concerned about under representation by women in physics. Statistical analysis of the membership of the seven scientific societies that make up the AIP, reveals that the American Crystallographic Association has the highest percentage of women members. Women such as Kathleen Lonsdale, Carolyn MacGillavry, Dorothy Hodgkin, Elizabeth Wood, and Gabrielle Donnay in the early days of crystallography, probably have a lot to do with those statistics, but the fact that six of the last thirteen presidents of the ACA have been women is probably an even greater incentive for women to be active in a field where they can influence its direction. It is a pleasure to note the recent election of Fujiko Iwasaki, the first woman president of the Crystallographic Society of Japan.

The cover illustration includes a photo taken at the opening ceremony of the European Crystallographic Meeting in Nancy, where the first European Crystallography Prize was awarded to Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Inst. of Science in Israel in recognition of her pioneering achievements in the crystallographic structure determination and analysis of ribosomes. No one has worked more diligently and tirelessly to determine the structure of the ribosome than Ada. Had it not been for her tenacity at a time when other investigators waxed and waned in their pursuit of the problem, it is unlikely that the recent explosion of extraordinary structural detail on this most fundamental of problems would have occurred.

The large number of scientists who have made critically important contributions to unravelling problems as complex as the structure of the ribosome makes the awarding of prizes extremely difficult. The awarding of a prize provides an opportunity to honor the scientists responsible for an important discovery and to draw the attention of the general public to the significance of the scientific endeavors. It is all too easy to fail to acknowledge properly all individuals whose efforts were critically important to the accomplishment being honored.

Because a problem as large, significant, and complex as the determination of the structure and function of the ribosome requires vital input from numerous investigators, it may be necessary to review the criteria that have traditionally governed nomination and award processes. It has become increasingly difficult to assign credit for a major scientific advance worthy of the Nobel Prize to three individuals. In fact, the restriction of a scientific award to a limited number of individuals can actually be counter productive because it may engender hostility and resentment in individuals who have devoted themselves to problems to which they have made a significant contribution and discourage others from engaging in persuits that are immersed in an atmosphere of intense competition to win, place or show.