Feature article

A new IUCr commission: commission on mathematical and theoretical crystallography

[MathCryst]Far from having exhausted its research potential, Mathematical and Theoretical Crystallography (MaThCryst) is facing new challenges, not only in the very classical field of group theory (magnetic groups, chromatic groups, N-dimensional groups) and its applications (phase transitions, polymorphism and polytypism, twinning, biocrystallography, ferroic crystals), but also in several directions that previously were less strongly perceived as being directly related to crystallography and crystal-chemistry, such as graph theory, combinatorial topology, number theory, discrete geometry, diffraction theory, etc. The development of mathematical and theoretical crystallography will strengthen the interaction between crystallographers, mathematicians and materials scientists and will definitely contribute to the recognition of crystallography as an interdisciplinary science.

The outstanding success that applied crystallography has experienced in recent years has transformed a common structural investigation into a routine task, often performed by researchers with no specific background in crystallography. Moreover, the success of automated structure solutions, whose results are persistently accepted without sufficient criticism, has contributed to the spread of the pernicious impression that a specific education in crystallography is no longer necessary in order to perform crystallographic tasks on a daily basis. The result is that nowadays crystallography is increasingly perceived as a technique, if not just as a tool, rather than an interdisciplinary science strongly interacting with fundamental and applied disciplines like mathematics, chemistry, physics, materials science, geosciences and biosciences. As a consequence, the time devoted to crystallographic education in undergraduate and graduate courses is continuously shrinking, and a solid background in crystallography is disappearing from the requirements of many positions that involve a considerable amount of crystallographic work.

The IUCr-MaThCryst Commission was started in September 2002 as an informal workgroup by a nucleus of researchers who felt the necessity of trying to reverse the current trend towards “crystallography as a black-box tool”. The aims of the new commission can be summarized in the following points.

•To strengthen links and interactions among crystallographers, mathematicians and theoretical physicists and chemists, and to promote a common language in these fields.
•To promote the presence at IUCr meetings of scientists working in the fields of mathematics, geometry, topology, and symmetry.
•To strengthen the recognition of crystallography as an interdisciplinary science in those fields where it is now considered only to be a technique.
•To promote the publication of mathematical and theoretical papers in the journals of the Union.
•To encourage the development and dissemination of mathematical and theoretical methods, software and databases for the solution of crystallographic problems.
•To promote and organize symposia of interest to mathematical and theoretical crystallographers during IUCr congresses and meetings of the regional associates, in cooperation with other Commissions of the Union.
•To promote and organize meetings, workshops and schools in collaboration with other Commissions particularly targeting post-graduate students and young scientists needing and willing to complete their education in crystallography.

The MaThCryst Commission has already organized a satellite conference (Budapest, August 2004) and a Summer School (Nancy, June 2005). Forthcoming activities include:

•Satellite conference of the ECM-23 meeting, Leuven (Belgium), August 4-6, 2006
•Satellite conference of the AsCA’06 meeting, Tsukuba (Japan), November 18-19, 2006
•Winter School at Havana (Cuba), January 14-19, 2007
•Satellite conference of the ECM-24 meeting, Marrakech (Morocco), August 20-22, 2007
•Summer School on the Garda Lake (Italy), May 2008 Up-to-date information can be obtained on the MaThCryst website (www.lcm3b.uhp-nancy.fr/mathcryst/)