Eleanor Dodson

Presentation address by Professor Andrew Macdonald:


To be truly world class, the modern day research scientist must acquire the skills of a polyglot: to be conversant in the many languages of interdisciplinarity. 

Eleanor Dodson recognised this from early in her career when as an aspiring structural biologist, she understood how another discipline, mathematics, would increase our understanding of the 3-D structures of protein molecules. The processes she subsequently pioneered led a transformation of the world of protein crystallography.

Born and educated in Australia, Eleanor's career in science began in the Sixties when she secured a position in Dorothy Hodgkin’s laboratory in Oxford. Dorothy herself won the Nobel Prize for work on penicillin and vitamin B12. Eleanor thrived in the academic environment and soon gained distinction for the research she started in the Sixties with her late husband, Guy, on resolving the structure of insulin, work that has since benefitted so many diabetes sufferers around the globe. 

However, it was Eleanor's powers of perception that led her to realise that much of the work carried out in the laboratory was mathematics, not biology, and that to do it well, it should be driven by computers. At the time, there were few computers, and fewer still the protocols and programmes required to underpin the work. Eleanor set out to correct the situation, here in Yorkshire, where she and Guy moved in the mid-Seventies, joining the University of York with whom she remains active as an Emeritus Professor. 

At York, Eleanor helped found a collaborative computing cooperative, a CCP, that produced freely available software for academics across the world. This CCP, which Eleanor later led, has not only helped solve tens of thousands of protein structures, but it also created the paradigm for how big computational projects that widen participation should be run across all scientific disciplines. 

Eleanor’s commitment to education has been tireless, and many established researchers around the world will have been guided in their first steps in this field by her efforts at study meetings, summer schools, and bulletin boards through which she continues to support new generations of scientists. Her achievements have led to a number of academic awards, including her election in 2003 as a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Chancellor, it is a pleasure to welcome Eleanor to Leeds, and to honour her life-long contributions to computational biology and science education. I am delighted to present to you for the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa, Eleanor Joy Dodson.”