A century of X-ray crystallography and 2014 international year of X-ray crystallography

Biserka Kojić-Prodić


The 100th anniversary of the Nobel prize awarded to Max von Laue in 1914 for his discovery of diffraction of X-rays on a crystal marked the beginning of a new branch of science - X-ray crystallography. The experimental evidence of von Laue's discovery was given by physicists W. Friedrich and P. Knipping in 1912.  In the same year W. L. Bragg described the analogy between X-rays and visible light and formulated the Bragg's law, a fundamental relation, that connected the wave nature of X-rays and fine structure of a crystal at atomic level. In 1913 the first simple diffractometer was constructed and structure determination started by the Braggs, father and son. In 1915 their discoveries were awarded by Nobel prize in physics. Since then, X-ray diffraction has been basic method for determination of three-dimensional structures of synthetic and natural compounds. The three-dimensional structure of molecule defines its physical, chemical, and biological properties. All over the past century significance of X-ray crystallography has been recognized by about forty Nobel prizes. The examples of X-ray structure analysis, of simple crystals of rock salt, diamond and graphite, and then of complex biomolecules such as B12-vitamin, penicillin, haemoglobin/myoglobin, DNA, and biomolecular complexes such as viruses, chromatin, ribozyme, and other molecular machines, have illustrated the development of the method. Among these big discoveries double helix DNA structure is epochal one of 20th century. These discoveries together with many others within X-ray crystallography completely changed our views and helped to be developed different new fields of science such as molecular genetics, biophysics, structural molecular biology, material science, and many others. During the last decade, an implementation of free electron X-ray lasers, a new experimental tool, has opened up femtosecond dynamic crystallography. This highly advanced methodology enables to solve the structures and dynamics of the most complex biological assemblies involved in a cell metabolism. The advancements of science and technology over 20th and 21stcenturies are of great influence on our views in almost all human activities. The importance of X-ray crystallography for science and technology advocates for its high impact on a wide area of research and declares it as highly interdisciplinary science. Briefly saying, crystallography defines the shape of our modern world.

The essay is far from being complete and it is concentrated on single crystal diffraction. The wide area of X-ray crystallography hardly can be reviewed in a single article. However, it highlights the most striking examples illustrating some of the milestones over past century.



Keywords: centennial anniversary of X-ray crystallography, discovery of X-ray crystallography – dazzling history, highlights, X-ray structure analysis and its prospect

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.20450/mjcce.2015.663


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