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1962: Dr Max Perutz and Sir John Kendrew

Perutz and Kendrew (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology) were awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. They used X-ray crystallography to study the structures of globular proteins such as haemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood, and the immunoglobulins (antibodies), which are the body’s natural defence molecules. Inspired by the observation of crystals forming in pools of blood on whaling ship decks, they also examined the protein crystal structure of sperm whale myoglobin, another blood protein.

X-ray crystallography uses the way that different proteins cause X-rays to change direction to produce unique patterns that indicated their structures. The achievement was the result of 25 years’ work and continues to be used to determine the structure of large molecules today.