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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2002
  • Online publication date: June 2014

12 - Hopkins and biochemistry


Frederick Gowland Hopkins has gone down in history as ‘the father of British biochemistry’, and it was largely through his efforts that the Cambridge Department of Biochemistry became a centre of world renown. The department was established in 1914 and Hopkins was its first Professor, until his retirement at the age of eighty-two in 1943. Between the two world wars, Hopkins and his colleagues put into place an exceptionally wide-ranging programme of biochemical research, developed degree course teaching and research training in the subject, and hosted visiting researchers from every continent. By the time of Hopkins' death in 1947, some seventy-five former members of the department had been elected to professorial chairs worldwide.

While Hopkins' legacy is celebrated among biochemists, his career in Cambridge did not run a uniformly smooth path. Before he acquired his own department, Hopkins had to struggle very hard to find the time, laboratory space and resources to do the biochemical research he wanted to pursue in the Cambridge Physiological Laboratory. Later, in the 1920s, concerted efforts were made to place the leadership of his department in other hands, albeit unsuccessfully. In both cases, Hopkins' particular ambitions for biochemistry went far beyond the expectations, or indeed wishes, of his peers. Here I shall outline these ambitions, the contexts within which Hopkins pursued and defended them, and some of the obstacles that faced him.


Hopkins was trained in analytical chemistry and subsequently qualified at medical school.