A celebration of the scientific achievement that transformed our view of matter

18 August 2014

What area of science has earned 28 Nobel Prizes, was instrumental in determining the structure of DNA, turns 100 this year and continues to be of fundamental importance to researchers?

Congratulations if you answered X-ray crystallography, one of the greatest innovations of the 20th century, established by a father and son working with table salt crystals 100 years ago.

On 18 August Professor Stephen Curry from Imperial College, London will mark 2014 as the International Year of Crystallography, in a Sydney Ideas event at the University of Sydney.

In 1913 William and Lawrence Bragg fired a beam of x-rays at a salt crystal and photographed the resulting pattern.

"This was the first time the atomic structure of matter could be 'seen'. The Braggs realised they could interpret the strangely regular ways in which the X-ray beam was reflected to work out how the atoms within the crystal are arranged," said Professor Curry.

That realisation was the basis for analysing hundreds of structures including enzymes, proteins and viruses.

"The structure of penicillin, haemoglobin, graphite and benzene are just a handful of its discoveries. It can be used to analyse anything that can be crystallised, including chemical compounds and large biological molecules."

X-ray crystallography remains the foremost technique for determining atomic structure, from the blades of a jet turbine to soil analysis on Mars by the Curiosity rover.

Professor Stephen Curry's research focus is structural analysis — mainly using X-ray crystallography — of the molecular basis of replication RNA viruses such as foot-and-mouth disease virus and noroviruses (including the infamous 'winter vomiting bug').

He writes for Reciprocal Space blog and for the Faculty of Science for National Science Week.

Event details:
What: X-ray Crystallography: a new view of the world
When: Monday, 18 August, 6.00pm to 7.30pm
Where: Law School Lecture Theatre 101 Level 1, Sydney Law School Eastern Avenue
Cost: Free. Register here

Contact: Verity Leatherdale

Phone: 02 9351 4312

Email: 3a504508233b4d340c29103c2f3e1e035b1d1645325c14291e780c29066c0340