The X-ray Crystal Structures We All Love

Credit: Science Source

One hundred years ago this year, X-ray crystallography gave scientists a window on the atomic world as never before. To honor that achievement, the United Nations dubbed 2014 the International Year of Crystallography. Celebrations honoring the occasion continue through December.

Here at C&EN we’ve marked the occasion by picking a few of our favorite X-ray crystal structures. That’s no easy task: There are now nearly 1 million to choose from.

But we persevered. We zeroed in on a handful that answered pressing chemical questions of their day. Can you imagine not knowing that benzene is flat? That the beta-lactam backbone of so many of our antibiotics exists? That metal-carbon bonds can be forged? We tell you the fascinating stories of the crystal structures that answered these chemical questions – and many others.

We also asked our readers to share their favorites. And they delivered – recalling the first structure they ever solved, the structure that changed the course of their research, the structure that convinced them to get a tattoo, even the structure that cemented a lifelong scientific collaboration between spouses!

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Grand Prize Winner

Geoffrey Price, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Tulsa, took home C&EN’s grand prize — a 3-D printer — for his entry on the structure of an intergrowth of two zeolite polymorphs.

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Those stories and many more are in the gallery of C&EN reader favorites. We hope you’ll take a moment to share your own favorite with our submission form. Your story will be automatically added to our online collection.

And if you are eager for more crystallography fun, check out these 5 surprising facts about crystals, brought to you by ACS Reactions.