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The success story of crystallography

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Diffractionists usually place the birth of crystallography in 1912 with the first X‐ray diffraction experiment of Friedrich, Knipping and Laue. This discovery propelled the mathematical branch of mineralogy to global importance and enabled crystal structure determination. Knowledge of the geometrical structure of matter at atomic resolution had revolutionary consequences for all branches of the natural sciences: physics, chemistry, biology, earth sciences and material science. It is scarcely possible for a single person in a single article to trace and appropriately value all of these developments. This article presents the limited, subjective view of its author and a limited selection of references. The bulk of the article covers the history of X‐ray structure determination from the NaCl structure to aperiodic structures and macromolecular structures. The theoretical foundations were available by 1920. The subsequent success of crystallography was then due to the development of diffraction equipment, the theory of the solution of the phase problem, symmetry theory and computers. The many structures becoming known called for the development of crystal chemistry and of data banks. Diffuse scattering from disordered structures without and with partial long‐range order allows determination of short‐range order. Neutron and electron scattering and diffraction are also mentioned.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: École Polytechnique Fédérale, IPSB, Le Cubotron, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland

Publication date: January 1, 2012


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