A crystal anniversary (Day 119)

A crystal anniversary (Day 119)

23rd September 2014

The year-long event commemorates the centennial of X-ray diffraction, which allowed the detailed study of crystalline material.

It is also the 400th anniversary of Kepler’s observation in 1611 of the symmetrical form of ice crystals, which began the wider study of the role of symmetry in matter.

You won't be surprised to hear that I'm a great supporter of campaigns to raise the profile of science and engineering, and I would like to congratulate the lead sponsor of the campaign - the International Union of Crystallography (IUCr) - and their lead partner - UNESCO.

UNESCO say they became involved with the campaign because even though 'crystallography underpins all of the sciences today, it remains relatively unknown to the general public'. It's a challenge chemical engineers are familiar with.

In 2022 - just over seven years away - we may have our own opportunity to promote crystallography and other facets of chemical engineering as IChemE celebrates it 100th birthday. That's something to look forward to.

IUCr has produced a lot of useful promotional material to support the campaign and it is this information which highlights the importance of crystallography.

The main purpose of crystallography is to provide information on structure at the atomic or molecular scale, and as structure is intimately linked to the properties and functions of materials and molecules of all sizes. As chemical engineers it helps our understanding of how things work and behave.

The impact of crystallography can be found everywhere in our daily world. For instance, modern drug development, nano- and biotechnology are all based on crystallographic results. The properties of solid forms of active pharmaceutical ingredients depend heavily on their internal structure.

Some of the world's most valued consumer goods also owe their success to crystallographic experiments including everyday materials like toothpaste, chocolate and computer memory, to advanced car and aerospace components.

All of these achievements can be traced back to the birth of X-ray crystallography, thanks to the work of William Henry, William Lawrence Bragg (father and son) and Max von Laue — the later was awarded the 1914 Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of the diffraction of X-rays by crystals.

I am reminded too that 2014 commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Nobel Prize, awarded to Dorothy Hodgkin for her work on vitamin B12 and penicillin.

The key thing to remember about crystallography is that it underpins and promotes our understanding of many aspects of chemical engineering.

It helps too if your branch of science is one of the most photogenic and magical of all the sciences and I end today's blog with some fantastic images courtesy of IUCr.

Bluetongue virus © IUCr
Insulin © IUCr
Antibodies binding to virus © IUCr
Biological crystals © IUCr
Ribosome © IUCr
Phyllotaxis © IUCr