The structure of penicillin was worked out using X-ray crystallography. The leading contributor in this research was the Oxford scientist Dorothy Hodgkin who took up the problem in 1942. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1964, the third woman ever to win the prize.
The structure of penicillin was investigated by X-ray analysis as part of the general chemical investigation of this molecule. By a comparative study of the potassium, rubidium and sodium salts of benzylpenicillin, it was found possible to solve the crystal structures and to show in detail how the atoms were arranged in space. The model gives a three dimensional map of part of one of the crystal salts of penicillin. The contours are lines of electron density and show the positions of individual atoms in the structure. The diagram shows two schematic views of the structure.
Earlier work developing penicillin for medical use in Oxford is also reflected in the Museum’s collection.