Frederick Gowland Hopkins and the chemistry of life

The cell is the building block of life. It was first observed in the seventeenth century, and as microscope technology advanced, gradually its intricate structure was revealed in more detail. In the early nineteenth century chemists began to identify the chemicals inside cells: but how those chemicals interacted to produce a cell and a living organism remained an enigma. This changed in the early twentieth century when Frederick Gowland Hopkins began a new field of science: the science of biochemistry.

Hopkins and his colleagues made groundbreaking discoveries that paved the way for huge advances in medicine, agriculture, pharmaceutics and many other fields. Hopkins himself discovered the existence of vitamins. His work finally solved the riddle of scurvy, rickets and other debilitating diseases, and new knowledge about nutrition improved the health of millions in the UK and abroad. 

In the 150th anniversary year of his birth, this exhibition celebrates Hopkins' life and his enormous contribution to one of the key scientific disciplines of the twenty-first century.

The exhibition 'Frederick Gowland Hopkins and the Chemistry of Life' is currently on display at the Royal Society, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London. The exhibition will be open to the public Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm, until Friday 27 May. To arrange a visit please contact Felicity Henderson on 020 7451 2597 or

If you are unable to attend in person, please use the links below to view text and artefacts from the display cases. Please note that these pages are currently under construction and more content will be added soon.

1. The Birth of Biochemistry

2. From Butterflies to Biochemistry

3. Cambridge Beginnings

4. The Discovery of Vitamins

5. A Department of His Own

6. The Father of British Biochemistry

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