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Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of crystallography, the study of crystals and their structure. The discovery in the early 20th century that X-rays could be diffracted by a crystal revolutionised our knowledge of materials. This crystal technology has touched most people's lives, thanks to the vital role it plays in diverse scientific disciplines - from physics and chemistry, to molecular biology and mineralogy. To date, 28 Nobel Prizes have been awarded to scientists working with X-ray crystallography, an indication of its crucial importance.

The history of crystallography began with the work of Johannes Kepler in the 17th century, but perhaps the most crucial leap in understanding came with the work of the father-and-son team the Braggs in 1912. They built on the work of the German physicist Max von Laue who had proved that X-rays are a form of light waves and that it was possible to scatter these rays using a crystal. The Braggs undertook seminal experiments which transformed our perception of crystals and their atomic arrangements, and led to some of the most significant scientific findings of the last century - such as revealing the structure of DNA.


Judith Howard
Director of the Biophysical Sciences Institute and Professor of Chemistry at the University of Durham

Chris Hammond
Life Fellow in Material Science at the University of Leeds

Mike Glazer
Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford and Visiting Professor of Physics at the University of Warwick

Producer: Natalia Fernandez.

Release date:

Available now

43 minutes

Last on

Thu 29 Nov 2012 21:30


Andrew Brown, ‘J. D. Bernal: The Sage of Science’ (OUP, 2007)


G. Cressey and I. Mercer, ‘Crystals’ (The Natural History Museum, 1999)


Georgina Ferry, ‘Max Perutz and the Secret of Life’ (Pimlico, 2008)


Georgina Ferry, ‘Dorothy Hodgkin: A Life’ (Granta Books, 1999)


Christopher Hammond, ‘The Basics of Crystallography and Diffraction’ (OUP, 2009)


Graeme Hunter, ‘Light is a Messenger: The Life and Science of William Lawrence Bragg’ (OUP, 2004)


John Jenkin, ‘William and Lawrence Bragg, Father and Son: The Most Extraordinary Collaboration in Science’ (OUP, 2011)


John Meurig Thomas, ‘The Birth of X-ray Crystallography’ Nature vol 491, Nov 8th 2012


John Meurig Thomas, ‘The Man Who Saw Into the Heart of Crystals’ The Times, Nov 10th 2012


Anne Sayre, ‘Rosalind Franklin and DNA’ (W. W. Norton & Co, 2000)


Brenda Swann and Francis Aprahamian (eds.) and E. J. Hobsbawm (preface),

‘J. D. Bernal: A Life in Science and Politics’ (Verso Books, 1999)

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