Modern crystallography

What is modern Crystallography?

How are the physical properties of a solid correlated with its crystal structure? Why does a chemical compound crystallize under given conditions in one particular strictly defined structure and not in a different one? What are the mechanisms driving structural phase transitions? Such questions are examples of profound problems in crystallography. The answers, which even today are only possible in a few simple cases, would considerably simplify the modelling of crystals under non-ambient conditions and the design of novel materials with precisely, specifically defined characteristics.

Crystallography is closely related to and has some overlap with several neighboring disciplines (Fig. 1).


Fig. 1: Crystallography and its relationship to neighboring sciences.

Crystallography originally evolved from the study of the morphology of mineral crystals and of the anisotropy of their physical properties. Consequently, crystallography has been traditionally assigned to earth science departments in most European countries. After the discovery of X-ray diffraction by Laue (1912), the focus of crystallography was shifted to structure analysis and chemists became the main users of crystallographic methods. In the last two decades, biocrystallography showed the highest growth rate with the structure analysis of biological macromolecules and drug design. Less spectacular but with even stronger consequences for our daily life has been the progress in crystallography with focus on materials science, e.g. the development of new crystal growth techniques (huge silicon crystals, Laser crystals, etc.).

The topics of modern crystallographic interest are reflected in the contributions to international crystallographic conferences (Fig. 2):


Fig. 2: Main fields of research as reflected in the number of pages they take in the book of 2258 abstracts of the last conference of the International Union of Crystallography, IUCR-XVI, Seattle, 1996 (cf. Acta Crystallogr. A52, 1996, supplement).


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