Letter to the Editor

Tilting at windmills

[Windmill]In 1961 Kathleen Lonsdale and Judith Milledge, Acta Cryst. (1961).14, 59-61, published a paper entitled “Analysis of thermal vibrations in crystals: a warning”. I was a referee for that paper. In my report, I said that Lonsdale and Milledge had somewhat misrepresented the papers they were criticising and “were tilting at windmills of their own creation”. In her response, Lonsdale denied my charge and enclosed a charming figure, reproduced here, showing “The authors tilting at a windmill”. Note the self-portraits, and the offenders named on the sails. Recently I showed this to Bill Duax, who felt it should be shared with a wider audience and no longer kept under “a veil of referal anonymity.” My reports evidently had some effect, for in publication Lonsdale and Milledge concluded graciously “We should like to acknowledge our indebtness to the referee whose sharp criticisms made us re-write this paper and, we hope, improve it”.

Kathleen Lonsdale (1903-1971) began her long career in X-ray crystallography under W. H. Bragg in 1922. In 1929 she determined the structure of hexamethylbenzene, the first aromatic compound to be defined by X-ray diffraction, and so proved the planarity of the benzene nucleus. She was a pioneer of space group theory in relation to the structure analysis of crystals and was an indefatigable editor of International Tables for many years. Among other fields she was an expert on thermal diffuse scattering, divergent beam X-ray photography and synthetic diamonds. At the Moscow Congress in 1966 she became President of the IUCr. Dorothy Hodgkin write in her obituary “She was a tough president, who kept her committees working for long hours. Professor Belov, who succeeded her as President, was heard to remark as she dragged him away from a pleasant party at the British Embassy to yet another committee meeting: ‘Kathleen you are a martinet’ .

Durward Cruickshank