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STEM GLAM GALLERY: Frederick Hopkins

AH-CHOO! Urgh, it’s that time of the year again. So many people around are catching a cold, and we’re definitely NOT interested in joining them. To ward off the cold, it’s important to get enough rest and maintain a balanced diet so that our immune system remains strong. Vitamin C is proven to be effective in preventing colds; so be sure to eat Vitamin-C-rich foods like kale, chili peppers, cauliflower, papaya, and strawberries during this time. Speaking of vitamins, we all know today that vitamins play an essential role in our bodily functions and that we’re prone to fall sick without adequate vitamin intake, but this wasn’t common knowledge until about a century ago, before Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins discovered the importance of “accessory food factors” – vitamins. And this week’s Glam Gallery report is in his honor.


Frederick Hopkins was a talented student in his school days. He was awarded the first-class prize in chemistry in 1874 and also a science prize through an examination at the College of Preceptors. As he graduated the City of London School at age 17, he published his first paper in The Entomologist on the bombardier beetle.

Though he spent several years working as a clerk in an insurance firm at first, he eventually found his way back to academia through a chemistry course at The Royal School of Mines. He then decided to pursue science at a higher level and enrolled at the University College in London. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1890 and his doctorate in physiology in 1902.

Hopkins continued to take on teaching roles as he had done during his graduate years to supplement his tuition, and in 1914, he became the first professor of biochemistry at Cambridge University. In 1921, he became the newly founded Chair of Biochemistry at Cambridge University, a position Hopkins held until he retired in 1943.

As a professor, Hopkins was extremely supportive and outstanding. He often encouraged his students to follow new, interesting problems and gave many valuable insights and suggestions. He would even hand over the most promising of fields to his students if he saw their potential. And indeed, many of his students went on to become distinguished biochemists, and an impressive number of them were elected to university chairs. For a measure of their competence, a group of his students published Perspectives in Biochemistry in 1937 to honor Hopkin’s 75th birthday.

Hopkins himself became more renowned as he won award after award, honor upon honor throughout his career. To name a few, he was knighted in 1925, awarded the Copley Medal of the Royal Society in 1926, became president of the Royal Society in 1931, and received that most prized of all civil distinctions, the Order of Merit, in 1935. Nevertheless, his arguably highest point would be winning the Nobel Prize in Physiology for his discovery of vitamins in 1929.

Although Hopkins is known for the discovery of vitamins, he has made many more significant contributions in the field of biochemistry with his prolific research and hard work. Some of them include discovering a method for isolating the important amino acid tryptophan and identifying its structure; devising a method for determining uric acid in urine, which remained standard procedure for many years; discovering pterin, a chemical compound essential to the coloring of butterfly wings; proving that working muscles accumulate lactic acid; and successfully isolating glutathione to show that it was a tripeptide comprising of three amino acids; cysteine, glutamic acid, and glycine.



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