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Proclamation of 2014 as International Year of Crystallography


The birth of modern crystallography took place almost 100 years ago, when Max von Laue carried out the experiment that showed that X-rays were diffracted by crystals, and the Braggs (father and son) shortly after in 1913 showed that the diffraction of X-rays can be used to determine accurately the positions of atoms within a crystal and unravel its three-dimensional structure. The significance of these experiments was realized immediately.  Max von Laue received the Nobel Prize in 1914, and the Braggs the year after. Since its birth 100 years ago, modern crystallography has developed in close collaboration with other scientific disciplines. As crystals also diffract neutrons and electrons, the scientific focus of crystallography has enlarged to cover all aspects of structural science involving X-rays, neutrons and electrons, and encompasses studies of both crystalline and non-crystalline materials.

The main purpose of crystallography is to provide information on the structure at the atomic or molecular level, and since structure is intimately linked to the properties and functions of materials and molecules of all dimensions, the impact of crystallography is everywhere in our daily world. Modern drug development, nano- and biotechnology are all based on crystallographic results. Crystallographic experiments form the underpinning for the development of all new materials from toothpaste to aeroplane components, illustrating the strong ties between crystallography and industry. Indeed, crystallography permeates all structural science at the molecular level, including physics, biology, chemistry, mineralogy, geosciences and cultural heritage.  Crystallography is thus an excellent example of the universality of science. Furthermore, the new sources for intense X-rays (synchrotrons) and neutrons that have been constructed during the last 20 years have revolutionized crystallographic science, and crystallography is the underlying science for all the experiments carried out at these large research infrastructures.  

The significance of the scientific achievements of crystallography is illustrated by more than 20 Nobel Prizes that have been awarded in the area. The scientific crystallographic community shows good gender balance worldwide.  One of the 2009 Nobel awardees is Ada Yonath, also a L’Oreal UNESCO prize recipient in 2008. More recently Irene Margiolaki, another crystallographer, was selected as L’Oreal UNESCO fellow 2010.

Crystallography on the International Stage

Crystallographers worldwide are represented by the International Union of Crystallography (IUCr), which was founded in 1948. The creation of an international scientific journal for crystallography, Acta Crystallographica, was an important motivation for the founding of the IUCr. The development of crystallographic science has been matched by a similar development in the publishing activities of the IUCr that now comprise eight crystallographic journals and eight volumes of International Tables for Crystallography.  The IUCr’s mission as a learned-society publisher is to serve the crystallographic community and the small surplus of funds that is generated is used to enable young scientists from less privileged countries to attend meetings and congresses worldwide and to stimulate international cooperation.   Information on the activities of the crystallographers worldwide is published in the IUCr Newsletter, which is distributed four times a year to 17,000 crystallographers.  The database World Directory of Crystallographers contains around 10,000 entries from 74 countries. Attendances at the IUCr Congresses have increased significantly over the last decade – close to 3,000 crystallographers meet every three years in different parts of the world. These congresses bring together scientists from the different areas of crystallography. The international cooperation in the different scientific areas is attended by 19 scientific commissions and 2 publishing Commissions. Three Regional Associates stimulate the international cooperation in different North–South geographical regions the American Crystallographic Association (ACA) covering North and South America, the Asian Crystallographic Association (AsCA) covering Oceania and Asia, and the European Crystallographic Association (ECA) covering Europe and Africa. The Regional Associates play an important role in the promotion of crystallography in a North–South dialogue.  Knowledge of crystallography is a significant component for technological developments, and one of the important missions of the IUCr is to support education in crystallography in countries where crystallography is less developed. A successful programme entitled Crystallography in Africa enables PhD students from countries without a large crystallographic community to study in another country in the region where crystallography is more developed.

Proposal and Objectives for the International Year of Crystallography

The IUCr would like to mark the centennial of the birth of modern crystallography by making 2014 the International Year of Crystallography (IYCr). The worldwide crystallographic community has enthusiastically welcomed the idea of having 2014 as an International Year of Crystallography and the Regional Associates and several National organizations have already started their preparations in eager anticipation of the IYCr.  The IUCr has received the support of the International Council for Science (ICSU) and UNESCO. In addition, several Unions have shown great interest in making joint arrangements with the IUCr.

The overall aims of the International Year of Crystallography (IYCr) are:
  • to provide the framework for the Laue–Bragg centennials celebrating the birth of modern crystallography
  • to foster international collaborations between scientists worldwide
  • to involve the very numerous synchrotron radiation facilities worldwide in the celebrations of the IYCr, thereby giving focus to UNESCO’s SESAME project
  • to increase the public awareness of crystallography
  • to increase the awareness of the way crystallography underpins most of the technological developments in our modern society
  • to illustrate the universality of science
  • to increase the awareness of the way crystallography underpins investigations of cultural heritage artefacts
  • to promote education in crystallography and its links to other sciences
  • to intensify the programme Crystallography in Africa and create similar programmes in other parts of the world lacking adequate education in crystallography
These goals are closely interlinked and actions within the IUCr are required in order to fulfill the actions in public outreach and education.

In many of the larger countries, National Committees for Crystallography have already developed excellent materials that can educate and illustrate the impact of crystallography on our society. The IYCr will be used by the IUCr and the Regional Associates as an opportunity to identify and organize these materials for broader use. A dedicated IYCr web site will be established that will be important for the dissemination of all this material, some of which may provide the inspiration for exhibits and demonstrations. This project carried out in the frame of the IYCr will promote and create intense international collaborations.    

The IYCr will have a strong educational component aimed at students from high school through to University. Countries that have experience with educational aspects will organize and participate in crystallographic training in countries that do not have a large crystallographic community. The IUCr has a history of very positive experiences with arrangements of schools of this type. During the IYCr such schools will be organized in Africa, South America and Asia. This is an activity that will increase global awareness among crystallographers and in the longer term will have an impact on international collaborations, and the worldwide development of science-based technologies.

The IYCr will provide the important framework for the celebrations of the Laue–Bragg centennials. Meetings celebrating the discoveries and the people behind the creation of modern crystallography are planned in Germany, United Kingdom, Australia and Norway. The historic and cultural components that will be part of these meetings will provide crystallographers with another very valuable dimension of science development. 

Adoption of resolution by UN

The UN adopted the resolution that 2014 should be the International Year of Crystallography at the Sixty-Sixth General Assembly on 3 July 2012.