Modern Crystallography

Modern Crystallography

by Ritika

The origins of crystallography lie in morphology which deals with the study of mineral crystals and also anisotropy which details the physical attributes of mineral crystals.

The physical and chemical attributes of solids have a strong association with crystal structure. It is also vital to know in this scenario that chemical compounds crystallize only under given conditions and that too for certain defined structures. From such behavior, it is clear that the branch of crystallography is closely related to and has strong association with several neighboring branches like solid state physics which deals with ideal structures and attributes and crystal physics, materials science which is about real structures and attributes, earth sciences which details the real structure of crystals, solid state chemistry that deals with ideal structure sand bonding, pharmacy, molecular biology which deals with structure of proteins and so on.

Crystallography and its Association with Other Branches

The origins of crystallography lie in morphology which deals with the study of mineral crystals and also anisotropy which details the physical attributes of mineral crystals. So with this idea, most of the European countries have associated crystallography with the branch of earth science. In 1912, Laue discovered the concept of X-ray diffraction and after this there was a major shift in the branch of crystallography. That is, after the discovery of x-ray diffraction the branch of crystallography was associated with the branch of structure analysis. This turned chemists into major users and they all benefited from the branch of crystallography.

In recent modern days, there is a great growth in the branch of structure analysis, in particular, the growth rate of biological macromolecules and drug design is higher. This contributes towards the growth in the branch of bio crystallography. Even the material science branch, which has strong association with our day-to-day life, contributes a lot towards the growth in the branch of crystallography. For instance, new techniques created for the development of crystal growth like laser crystals all contribute towards the higher success rate of the branch of crystallography.

One of the important applications to mention using modern crystallography is the making of crystal skulls. Crystal skulls are a metaphor that reality is a consciousness hologram through which we experience virtually. A crystal skull is a model of a human skull fashioned mostly out of quartz crystal, with some exceptions, for example Chinese jade skulls. Crystal skulls can be made in various sizes ranging from a few inches to the size of an actual human head, or even larger. The age of any skull may be determined with the age of the crystal that was used to create it. Factors like the year the skull was carved or the point of origin is not important in determining the age of the skull.

Crystal skulls are usually linked to ancient Mesoamerican cultures, specifically the Maya which in turn directs us to the Mayan Long Calendar and its associated prophecies. Several crystal skulls are created at definite angles that represent the nature of the quartz crystal that has been used and overall, a union of revered geometry. In modern crystallography, the first procedure is always to determine the axis, to prevent fracturing and breakage during the subsequent shaping process.

Modern crystallography has interesting debates and questions associated with it, like the reason for crystal species taking on a variety of external forms. The observation of J. Kepler in 1611 paved the way for the concept of observational crystallography. The interesting fact to note is that both structural crystallography and the science of crystal growth emerged from curiosity about the large variety in crystal forms. There are various factors associated in the generation of varied crystal forms. Some of the factors are complex, namely internal (also referred to as structural) and external (also termed as environmental) which control the crystal growth process.

Crystallography in general, deals with the branch of science that details the structure and bonding of atoms in solids that are of crystalline nature, coupled with the geometric structure of crystal lattices. Modern crystallography is broadly sourced from the study of the diffraction of X-rays when crystals act as optical gratings. With the use of X-ray crystallography, chemists can now ascertain the internal configuration and bonding structures of molecules & minerals. In fact, X-ray crystallography could be even used to determine the structures of large complex molecules. That is, Crystallography is the science concerned with the study of crystals. Modern crystallography is intimately linked with the ability of crystals to diffract X-rays. This resulting diffracting x-rays is used to study in detail the structure of the crystal along with 3D molecular structure of the crystalline material. For the in-depth study, the first process to be taken is the crystallization of the macromolecule which are then mounted in a capillary tube and placed in an X-ray beam. The resulting diffraction pattern from this process is collected and analyzed to obtain the structure of the protein.

Modern crystallography has a very interdisciplinary attribute with a holistic approach. Crystallographers like to study about physical attributes of a crystal, special effects, due to the chemist synthesis in terms of all facets of the same object called crystal. Crystallographers like to study the above attributes to locate a steady view of connections between the structure, properties and chemical composition of a crystal. These are all well studied and detailed using modern crystallography. For instance, for excellent and exact structure determination, the mandatory requirement is the availability of powerful and bright synchrotron radiation. In fact, the above could be studied in depth by using X-ray laser. The detailed exact in depth study of molecular structure of biological macromolecules has made the branch of modern crystallography to be popularly applied to the branch of Biology.

The study of quartz by Nicolas Steno in the 17th century paved the way for the concept of the interesting and powerful branch – Modern Crystallography. According to Nicolas Steno, in whatever manner the quartz crystal gets distorted, the long prism faces always made a perfect 60 degree angle. The discovery of quasi-crystals which was based on the concept termed as pentagonal or icosahedron symmetry by a physicist named Dan Shechtman in 1982, marked the greatest discoveries of modern crystallography. This is because quasi crystals generalize and finish the definition of a crystal.

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