Sir Alan Lloyd Hodgkin was born on February 5, 1914 in Banbury, Oxfordshire, England. His family were Quakers and his pacifist father, George, died of dysentery in Baghdad while on a relief expedition to help Armenia refugees in 1918, when Hodgkin was 4. Hodgkin was raised by his mother. As a young boy he took an interest in natural history, wandering in the Oxford countryside. He attended the Downs School and Gresham's School, winning a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied zoology, chemistry and mathematics. He graduated from Trinity in 1936. After graduation he did fellowships at Trinity and the Rockefeller Institute in New York.
Returning to Cambridge in 1939, he began working with his students Andrew Huxley and Richard Keynes studying nerve cell activation, but with the outbreak of World War II the research was temporarily abandoned. Hodgkin briefly worked in aviation medicine in Farbourough, England, but then transferred to the Telecommunications Research Establishment where he worked on radars for fighter planes. After the war he returned to Cambridge where he lectured in physiology and was appointed assistant director of research. He continued researching nerve cells and Huxley and Keynes returned to work with him. They also worked part time at the Laboratory of the Marine Biological Institute in Plymouth where they used giant squid nerves for their research..
The research that they were doing involved the changes in nerve cell membrane ion permeability before, during, and after nerve excitation. Using nerve cells from giant squid they established that during nerve excitement, ion channels in the membrane open allowing sodium ions to flow through the cell membrane into the cell and potassium to flow out. This flow of ions moves down the length of the nerve cell, conducting an electrical signal. This is the way excitable cells like muscle and heart cells, as well as nerve cells, activate. Later research showed that there were protein ion channels in the cell membrane that allow ions to flow across the membrane. For their work in describing nerve cell action potentials Hodgkin and Huxley, as well as Sir John Eccles, shared the 1963 Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine.
Other honors won by Hodgkin include, election to the Royal Society in 1948, the Foulerton Research Professorship in 1951, and the Copley Medal from the Royal Society in 1965. He served as the president of the Royal Society from 1970 to 1975, as chancellor of Leicester University from 1971 to 1984 and master of Trinity College from 1978 to 1984. He was knighted in 1972 and appointed to the Order of Merit in 1973.
Hodgkin died on December 20, 1998.
Hodgkin, Sir Alan L.; "Sir Alan L. Hodgkin"; in The History of Neuroscience in Autobiography, Volume 1; The Society for Neuroscience; 1996
Anonymous; "Nobel Prize Winning Biologist Dies, Aged 84"; BBC News; December 20, 1998
Alan L. Hodgkin Nobel Biography
Alan Lloyd Hodgkin Wikipedia Entry