In case you don’t know, this year is the International Year of Crystallography, as we celebrate 100 years since Max von Lau won a Nobel prize for his work in the field, and 99 years since the father and son Bragg team won theirs. I actually spent much of today working on a crystal structure and, in a strange coincidence, today I came across this excellent feature on the Nature News website which includes a host of articles and information on crystallography.
I’ve attended several lectures on crystallography and am trained in running x-ray diffraction experiments myself, and it’s truly amazing how much this technology has advanced since a century ago. What used to be an extremely time-intensive and complicated procedure is now done routinely day in and day out by many researchers, and here at the University of Nottingham we’re lucky enough to have three high-quality diffractometers for use by all trained PhD students and post-docs. The theory can still be mind-boggling, but thanks to dedicated researchers in the field, the equipment and software make it reasonably straightforward after lots of practice!
Crystallography is an extremely useful and powerful tool for finding out a wealth of information about our compounds, and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of getting your first crystal structure! The dark art of crystal growing isn’t easy, but once you manage to grow single crystals you can find out firstly what your compound is, and if there are any interesting structural or bonding characteristics. You can realise you’ve made something completely unexpected, and find your research taking a turn you never expected based on the result. Obviously, crystal structures aren’t everything, and you will need other data to support your structure, but they’re a great starting point for finding out about your molecules.
If you’re at all interested in crystallography, I strongly recommend you take a look at the feature linked above, where you will also find all of the related Nature articles on crystallography from past issues. Furthermore, you can find out more about the International Year of Crystallography here.