Mar 152014

CC attribution: Jeff Kubina - click image for original.On 15th March, the Museum of the History of Science in Broad Street, Oxford hosted a ‘Crystals Day’ as part of their long-running crystals exhibition in the museum basement gallery.

Hands-on activities were run by Diamond Light Source (including their lego beamline), volunteers from the Solar Fuels outreach team from Chemistry and live crystal growing expertly run by Jonny Brooks-Bartlett and Katharina Jungnickel, graduate students in Biochemistry.

Their were also four 30-minute ‘popup’ talks in the basement gallery from Brian Sutton (King’s College London) on crystal symmetry and diffraction; a tale of persistence to overcome ‘Mission Impossible’ – growing some virus protein crystals by Elspeth Garman (Biochemistry); Pasteur, Penicillin and Point Groups by Richard Cooper (Chemistry) and Dorothy Hodgkin: A life by Georgina Ferry, Dorothy’s biographer.

Mar 142014

2logos_frame_noletteringA-level students from a range of schools attended a one-day course at the Museum of the History of Science and the Department of Chemistry in Oxford to find out about the science and applications of crystallography. In the morning they discovered how symmetry plays important role in the structure and diffraction of crystals in a lecture by Prof. Brian Sutton of King’s College, London. Prof. Richard Cooper then gave an rapid overview of the history of the applications of crystallography from Pasteur’s discovery of chirality in the pre- X-ray diffraction world to Hodgkin’s determination of the structure of penicillin. Prof. Elspeth Garman took the students through the ups and downs of crystallographic research in the decades long attempt to grow one crystal of a virus protein in an attempt to fight the tuberculosis virus.

Split into groups, the students then visited the Department of Chemistry where they visited three different activities:

  • Rapid collection of diffraction data (under 10 minutes) and solution of the structure of fructose crystals with Dr. Amber Thompson in the X-ray facility.
  •  Tasting how different crystalline structures (polymorphs) of cocoa butter in chocolate affect its texture and physical properties with Ms. Rachel Knight from Dirk Aarts’ research group (honorable mention to the one student who resisted temptation – having given up chocolate for lent!).
  • Exploring stereoisomers and enantiomers using physical models (including Pasteur’s tartrate ion) and discovering why mirror images of a molecule can have quite different smells.

Meanwhile back in the museum students visited the solar fuels outreach stand where they saw how crystallography can reveal the structures that nature uses to carry out photosynthesis, and, under the careful supervision of Johnny Brooks-Bartlett and Katharina Jungnickel from Biochemistry, they were able to carry out a recrystallisation of the protein lysozyme and watch while it grew in just a few minutes on a microscope slide.

Jan 202014

RKV-001Once again, the weather contrived to cause problems, this time with flooding causing closures to both the Botley and the Abingdon Roads.  Despite this, the speakers and organisers and, more importantly cake and lunch (!) all arrived in time even though some of the delegates were unable come (for those who missed it, the program for Red Kite V is available to download).

People who only had a short bus, cycle or walk arrived in good time for the first of the mini-plenary sessions which was presented by Prof. Andrew Weller from Oxford who discussed the preparation of an alkane complex by solid-state hydrogenation.  The session was continued by Jerome Wicker (also Oxford) (who eventually managed to remember his title) and was talking about predicting whether or not materials will crystalise.  This was followed by two more speakers from Oxford, Markus Gerstel talking about radiation damage in protein samples and Joshua Hill discussing framework materials.

After mid morning cake with coffee for those who were quickest and tea for those who weren’t (sorry about that – we will make sure there is more next time!), we started the second session.  This began with our second mini-plenary speaker, Dr. Arwen Pearson from the Research Complex and the Astbury Centre, Leeds, who gave a nice presentation that demonstrated how reactions can be followed in the solid state in proteins.  This was followed by three more speakers from Oxford:  Andrew Jupp talking about novel organophosphorus species, Rémi Tirfoin explaining how important single crystal X-ray diffraction is to organometallic chemists and Andrew Johnston telling us about benzoylmethylecgonine – a simple compound whose structure is more complex that you would think.

Lunch was accompanied by posters and the room was a constant buzz as people mixed munching with science, before the final session began.  The mini-plenary was presented by Prof. Mike Glazer (Oxford) who demonstrated how important it can be to get space groups right and what effect it can have on a phase diagram.  This was followed Dr. Mark Warren (Diamond) explaining how the facilities on the small-molecule beamline I19 can help you follow a reaction.  Next was Dr. Lynne Thomas from the Research Complex and Bath, who showed how you can use a range of techniques to understand the structure of materials as complex as Sitka Spruce (aka aircraft wood).  The final speaker of the day was Dr. Tristan Youngs (ISIS) who explained how complex amorphous systems could be studied using neutrons.  The meeting was brought to a close with the awarding of the obligatory tweeting poster prizes which were given to the nicely alliterating Joe, Jerome and Jamie (Paddison, Wicker and Lawler, respectively);  congratulations to them.

The day finished with a drinks reception giving people who had missed the best posters a chance to talk to the winners.  Once again, everyone seemed to enjoy the day.  We are looking forward to seeing everyone again at the next meeting which will be held on the Harwell site over the summer.

Finally, the organisers would like to thank all the excellent speakers, delightful attendees, esteemed poster judges, kind souls who helped set up the rooms, and especially the John Fell Fund who provided sustenance:  together you made this another fantastic meeting.

Jan 012014

2logos_frame_noletteringThe UN designated International Year of Crystallography 2014 (IYCr2014) commemorates not only the centennial of X-ray diffraction, which allowed the detailed study of crystalline material, but also the 50th anniversary of the Dorothy Hodgkin’s Nobel Prize and the 400th anniversary of Kepler’s observation in 1611 of the symmetrical form of ice crystals, which began the wider study of the role of symmetry in matter.

More information is available on the International Union of Crystallography’s IYCr site, and the British Crystallographic Association’s Outreach and Education site: