29 Nov, 2012 540 Chemistry

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of crystallography, the study of crystals and their structure. The discovery in the early 20th century that X-rays could be diffracted by a crystal revolutionised our knowledge of materials. This crystal technology has touched most people’s lives, thanks to the vital role it plays in diverse scientific disciplines - from physics and chemistry, to molecular biology and mineralogy. To date, 28 Nobel Prizes have been awarded to scientists working with X-ray crystallography, an indication of its crucial importance. The history of crystallography began with the work of Johannes Kepler in the 17th century, but perhaps the most crucial leap in understanding came with the work of the father-and-son team the Braggs in 1912. They built on the work of the German physicist Max von Laue who had proved that X-rays are a form of light waves and that it was possible to scatter these rays using a crystal. The Braggs undertook seminal experiments which transformed our perception of crystals and their atomic arrangements, and led to some of the most significant scientific findings of the last century - such as revealing the structure of DNA.

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  • Judith Howard 3 episodes
    Director of the Biophysical Sciences Institute and Professor of Chemistry at the University of Durham
  • Chris Hammond No other episodes
    Life Fellow in Material Science at the University of Leeds
  • Mike Glazer No other episodes
    Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford and Visiting Professor of Physics at the University of Warwick

Reading list

  • J. D. Bernal: The Sage of Science
    Andrew Brown (OUP, 2007) Google Books →
  • Crystals
    G. Cressey and I. Mercer (The Natural History Museum, 1999) Google Books →
  • Max Perutz and the Secret of Life
    Georgina Ferry (Pimlico, 2008) Google Books →
  • Dorothy Hodgkin: A Life
    Georgina Ferry (Granta Books, 1999) Google Books →
  • The Basics of Crystallography and Diffraction
    Christopher Hammond (OUP, 2009) Google Books →
  • Light is a Messenger: The Life and Science of William Lawrence Bragg
    Graeme Hunter (OUP, 2004) Google Books →
  • William and Lawrence Bragg, Father and Son: The Most Extraordinary Collaboration in Science
    John Jenkin (OUP, 2011) Google Books →
  • The Birth of X-ray Crystallography
    John Meurig Thomas (Nature, 2012)
  • The Man Who Saw Into the Heart of Crystals
    John Meurig Thomas (The Times, 2012)
  • Rosalind Franklin and DNA
    Anne Sayre (W. W. Norton & Co, 2000) Google Books →
  • J. D. Bernal: A Life in Science and Politics
    Brenda Swann and Francis Aprahamian (eds.) and E. J. Hobsbawm (preface) (Verso Books, 1999) Google Books →

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Auto-category: 548 (Crystallography)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello, in a letter to a colleague, the Nobel Prize winning chemist Max Perutz tried to convey the crucial importance of crystallography to our understanding of the world.