A Department of His Own

On the eve of the First World War Hopkins was appointed the first professor of biochemistry at Cambridge. Throughout the war years issues of food rationing and the quality of the nation nutrition claimed much of Hopkins attention. He devoted his energies to government business and served on the Royal Society Food (War) Committee. He wrote several pamphlets on the country food supply and how it could be best utilised, including Food Economy in War Time and Physiology and the Nation Needs. Various researchers in his new department worked on associated nutritional studies.

From the department inception Hopkins was keen to have a wide programme of research in its laboratories. Thus, in addition to nutritional studies, during the war years there were several visiting Japanese researchers (the first of many foreign scientists to work in his laboratories) who continued Hopkins’ protein and vitamin interests. Muriel Wheldale and Frederick Blackman were engaged in botanical chemistry and the recently created Medical Research Council (then know as the Medical Research Committee) supported several projects in bacterial chemistry a key research area in the department for many decades to come.

Draft plan for the Conversion of the Balfour Laboratoy, Downing Place, for the Department of Biochemistry (c.1916)
For its first four years the department was housed in a couple of crowded laboratories in Corn Exchange Street. In 1918 Hopkins secured University funds for refurbishment of the Balfour Laboratory. 
(By permission of The Syndics of Cambridge University Library)

Hubert Tunnicliffe and Ery Luscher making mercaptans on the roof of the Balfour Laboratory (c.1921)
During the early days of biochemistry researchers had to make much of their own equipment and chemicals. Tunnicliffe and Luscher retreated to the roof because mercaptans were particularly smelly. 
(Photo supplied by the Department of Biochemistry, Cambridge University)

Glutathione: Notes Towards a Biochemical Review (c.1936)
In 1921 Hopkins discovered glutathione, a key ‘antioxidant’ protecting the cell from chemical damage. The following year he isolated the enzyme xanthine oxidase. 
(By permission of The Syndics of Cambridge University Library)

Royal Medal, 1918 
The Royal Society's Royal Medal was awarded to Hopkins in recognition ‘of his researches in chemical physiology’. 
(Private Collection)

Letter of apology from the Privy Purse Office (November 1918)
Due to gold shortage at the end of  the First World War Hopkins’ original Royal Medal was in bronze.
(By permission of The Syndics of Cambridge University Library)

Letter to Hopkins from the Prime Minister's office (February 1917)
As the nation's use of alcohol increased during WW1 (for example in the manufacturing of munitions), there were problems sourcing raw materials for its production. In this letter, the Prime Minister's Office wrote to ask Frederick Gowland Hopkins for his advice about yeast production in the UK, or the possibility of transporting yeast from the United States.
(By permission of The Syndics of Cambridge University Library)

Memorandum on the Nutritive Value of Dried Milk (1917)
The Royal Society’s Food (War) Committee was formed in 1915 to act as a scientific advisory board to government bodies regulating many aspects of food policy during the First World War. Hopkins prepared reports on many nutritional issues. The production of dried milk was suggested as a solution to excess summer milk.                                                             

Artichokes as an Alternative  Source of Carbohydrates (1917)
Report produced by Hopkins for the Royal Society's Food (War) Committee.

Menu card and toast list 
The card was prepared for a ''Biochemical Laboratory Dinner in Celebration of the Knighthood of Professor Hopkins'', at Trinity College, Cambridge on 14 February 1925. The card has been signed by the dinner attendees. 
(By permission of The Syndics of Cambridge University Library)

Postcard from St Petersburg (1935)
Students and researchers from all five continents came to work in Hopkins’ department. Once back in their own countries, they formed ‘Hoppy clubs’, sending their mentor updates on their biochemical work. 
(By permission of The Syndics of Cambridge University Library)

Letter from Hopkins to Hans Adolf Krebs (1933)
Hopkins found Krebs a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, and he arrived in Cambridge in June 1933. In Hopkins’ department Krebs recalled for the first time meeting people who could ‘argue without quarrelling, quarrel without suspecting, suspect without abusing, criticise without vilifying or ridiculing and praise without flattering’.
(By permission of The Syndics of Cambridge University Library)

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