Letters to the Editor

[Letters to the Editor]

Crystallography in the movies (1)

Thank you for your article on Crystallography in the movies. I was actually planning to talk at last year’s ACA meeting on crystals and pop culture. I was deterred by other more pressing matters.

One good example of other mentions of crystallography in films is the 1969 Polish movie "The Structure of Crystal" directed by Krzysztof Zanussi. Actually this is not about crystals but the life of two scientists who were students together and have taken separate paths. The interesting fact is that the director actually had an advanced degree in solid-state physics so was well equipped to deal with the subject matter.

I, for better or worse, love bad movies. Of course, in the 1950s there is one with monster crystals. It is entitled "The Monolith Monsters" and made in 1957. Anyone with a knowledge of crystals will get great amusement watching this film. There is no evidence that anyone connected with it had even the most elementary knowledge of science. The idea of being threatened by immobile, huge crystals that kill by collapsing on anything beneath them is totally absurd. Later, crystals were replaced with a mobile, amorphous material that was "The Blob." Guess it is too hard to grow crystals that move.

Phillip E. Fanwick
Purdue, USA

Crystallography in the movies (2)

Reading your interesting article Crystallography in the movies and the call to report occurrences of the field, I decided to contact you.

This is about the book and the movie of Michael Crichton's Andromeda Strain.

If I recall well a molecular structure (or at least a look-alike) of a B12-like huge ring structure is shown in both places. Quite frankly, I am not 100% percent sure of the movie.

Whether X-ray crystallography is literally referenced to, this is yet another uncertainty in my memories.

Most probably this all may be known to you or to many other colleagues, too. Nevertheless, I decided to write to you in the hope of not being quite superfluous.

Mátyás Czugler
Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Editor: Several people (by Twitter) have pointed to the film Andromeda Strain as an example of crystallography in the movies. It can be seen here. Crystallography is specifically mentioned, as shown in the following image of the script.


And for Dr Who fans …

To add to your notes about mentions of crystals and crystallography in the movies, I feel I should add a couple of references from my favourite sci-fi TV show – Doctor Who. As many of your readers will know, this BBC drama has been running, on and off, since 1963, and there is therefore a wealth of material from which to draw.

Firstly, a four-part serial made in black and white in 1969, entitled “The Krotons”, concerned a race of crystalline creatures (the eponymous Krotons) who were reanimated (and grown from vats!) thanks to an inadvertent influx of mental energy from our hero, the Doctor, portrayed at the time by Patrick Troughton. Spoiler alert – the Krotons’ biology is “based on tellurium” and they are defeated by judicious application of acid. You can find the trailer for the DVD release of this serial here – perhaps wisely, the Krotons themselves are only briefly visible at moments throughout this trailer, as they are not the greatest triumph for the BBC costume department.

More notably, in 1975, in the final episode of the four-part serial “Terror of the Zygons”, there is a wonderful quotation which I used in my PhD thesis. The Zygons, a race who use “organic technology” and can change their shape to mimic human form, are hiding out in their spaceship, having been dormant for many years, but now feel ready to emerge and take over the world as a replacement for their own devastated planet, using the Loch Ness Monster (don’t ask!) as their weapon. The Doctor, by now in the form of the very well-remembered actor Tom Baker, has been captured by the Zygons but has interfered with a camera in his cell in order to send a signal about the spaceship’s location to the outside world. In the process he has been rendered unconscious by a large electric shock. The Zygons’ leader, Broton (although currently in the human form of a Scottish aristocrat – again, don’t ask!) and a colleague discover the Doctor’s prone form – at which point Broton utters the immortal line: “I underestimated his intelligence, but he underestimated the power of organic crystallography!”. I think we can all agree with that!

In contrast to the Krotons, the Zygons most certainly were an achievement for the 1970s BBC costume department – and they have reappeared several times in recent Doctor Who series, although sadly with no further mention of “organic crystallography”!

Steve Maginn
Cambridge, UK

Crystallography in the comics

The young illustrator Till Lukat and his colleagues from ERCcOMICS are publishing in the web a story based on my research in the ERC project Prometheus. After the release of five chapters, I am convinced that it is a simple and funny way to learn about science, discoveries, field trips, crystals, life, minerals, etc. I think it is a nice reading for children but also for almost everybody. I wonder if you can help to disseminate it among crystallographers. The comic is entitled "Something in the water" and is being published here.

Juan Manuel García-Ruiz
Granada, Spain

13 December 2019

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