Illuminating Atoms – there’s still time to see the beauty of crystallography


As many of you will know, 2014 is the International Year of Crystallography, and to celebrate this, photographer Max Alexander is exhibiting a brilliant selection of work showcasing the inspirational work of crystallographers.

The exhibit is called Illuminating Atoms, and is being shown at the Royal Albert Hall until the 7th December. There’s also a free open day on Saturday 29th November between 10am and 4pm.

Crystallography is a vital tool that us synthetic chemists utilise on a regular basis not only to identify our compounds, but to study them in the solid state. Throughout the last 100 years it has enabled chemists, biologists and physicists alike learn more about the matter around us and has revealed new and exciting bonding modes, enzyme structures, drug polymorphs and crystal lattices.

If, like me, you’ve carried out some of your own crystallography, you’ll know how much beauty can actually be enjoyed through the process. Crystals are, by their very nature, the most attractive form of many substances, as the extended crystal lattice provides a level of uniformity and structure which leads to the formation of beautiful shapes and colours. A crystal’s ability to transmit polarised light can also lead to very pretty images of glowing crystals under a polarising microscope. Even the most serious chemist can often be found carrying photos of their most attractive crystals on their camera or in their phone. My colleagues at Nottingham have often come back to our lab waving their phone with a photo of some particularly impressive crystals they’ve just put on the diffractometer.

You can see two examples of Max’s stunning photos can be seen on this page on the New Scientist website.

The exhibit will no doubt be fascinating, and if you’re visiting the Royal Albert Hall between now and the 7th December I strongly suggest you take a peek.

You can find out more information here.


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