Distinguished chemist visiting Memorial


(May 15, 1997, Gazette)

By Dr. Frank R. Smith

Department of Chemistry

Memorial's Department of Chemistry welcomed an exceptional visitor yesterday -- on May 14 Dr. Judith A. K. Howard arrived. She is the 19th Job visiting professor to the department, and she holds a Sir Derman Christopherson Foundation Fellowship for 1997-98 from the University of Durham, England, where she is Foundation professor of structural and materials chemistry.

Dr. Howard will give three scientific lectures (on May 15, 16 and 20) to members of the university community, as well as a public lecture on May 20 (see Out & About for details).

Dr. Howard's public lecture, Many Hands Make Life Work, ought to be of particular interest since the subject is the distinguished career of Dr. Howard's doctoral adviser, Dame Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, who won the 1964 Nobel Prize for unravelling the structure of vitamin B12, and for earlier work on penicillin.

The late Dame Hodgkin has been the subject of public lectures by Dr. Howard on at least two other occasions in the past two years. She discussed her former mentor, friend and colleague at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature in October 1996 -- Dame Hodgkin had also been Margaret Thatcher's tutor at Somerville College, Oxford; and she also talked of the Nobel laureate's life and work as part of the Royal Society Lunch Time Science Lecture series at the National Portrait Gallery in central London, where the audience could view Maggi Hambling's portrait of Dame Hodgkin, in which the complex molecular structure of insulin is depicted.

Dr. Howard was born in Lincolnshire in 1945. Her scientific career got a boost in 1966 after she graduated from Bristol University with a B.Sc. Interviewing for a job at Harwell -- the British atomic energy research establishment -- she met Dr. Terry Willis, who suggested she try for a D.Phil. from nearby Oxford University, jointly supervised by himself and Prof. Hodgkin, with whom he had been collaborating. She took his advice. Her doctoral work employed both neutron diffraction (neutrons being readily available from Harwell's nuclear pile) as well as the more usual X-ray diffraction. The combined techniques confer special benefits on the analysis of the structure, each providing complementary information.

After receiving her D.Phil. from Oxford, Dr. Howard returned to Bristol University to work with Prof. Gordon Stone as supervisor of the X-ray crystallographic unit in various capacities until 1991, when she was promoted to reader; in the same year she moved to Durham University and her present position.

Dr. Howard is one of only six female chemistry professors in Britain, all of whom are specialists in crystallography -- the study of the atomic and electronic arrangements in crystals of chemical compounds. Dr. Howard was recently honored by the Queen, who made her a commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to science. Dr. Howard received a Royal Society Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellowship for 1996-97, and in 1996 was visiting women's scholar at the University of Victoria.

During her visit to Memorial, Dr. Howard will talk about neutron diffraction, hydrogen bonded networks (of interest in living systems) and crystallography at temperatures approaching the absolute zero (where molecular motions are frozen and therefore easier to study). The latter topic has attracted the attention of Dr. Laurence Thompson, a university research professor at Memorial, who will be working with Dr. Howard at Durham in early 1998 (see Notable). Dr. Howard has many collaborative research projects with scientists in Argentina, Canada, Chile, Finland, Russia, and other countries. She also has arranged for her co-workers to utilize neutron beams at research facilities in the U.K., France and the United States because it is impracticable for universities like Durham to have their own. In addition, Dr. Howard organizes summer schools for young crystallographers annually.