We are living in strange times, what with weeks of floods here in the UK, huge fires in Australia, fears of climate change, and, as if that is not enough, now we have the spread of the so-called coronavirus (COVID-19). Talking of which, I received a letter from Marv Hackert (Immediate Past President of the IUCr) informing us of some most exciting and timely work carried out on the structure of the spike protein in COVID-19 (see Letter to the Editor) by Jason McLellan and his team at the University of Texas in Austin, USA. The spike in question refers to the circled unit in this figure, and this is the nasty bit that helps the virus to gain entry into the cell. Don’t you love viruses?
You can read up more about this important work at
Work is proceeding on the structure of this virus around the world, for example at the Diamond Light Source (UK), Argonne (USA) and the University of Lübeck/BESSY II (Germany) – see the report of the Joint Polish-German Crystallographic Meeting 2020 in this issue of the IUCr Newsletter. If you ever needed to explain the importance of crystallography, now is the time!
Also in this issue, we have an article from Bill Clegg on the Cambridge Structural Database (CSD), an essential source of structural information. Bill provides a personal discussion of how the CSD has helped in both teaching and research. As you will surely know by now, last year the CSD reached its millionth structure. At the 32nd European Crystallographic Meeting in Vienna, Austria, there was even a cake specially made for the occasion.
Once more, Massimo Nespolo gives us insight into a topic in symmetry that is often overlooked even by trained crystallographers, namely the question of orbits. We are all familiar, at least we think we are, with the concept of Wyckoff sites, but the associated orbits are also worth understanding.
I was pleased to hear recently from the Royal Society (UK) that they were finally releasing their biographical memoirs free of charge. I was able to get them to let me publish here with Helen Eaton from the Royal Society a listing of all the scientists who have had links with crystallography (53 in all) and who, at the same time, were Fellows of the Royal Society. These memoirs are fascinating thorough accounts of the lives and achievements of deceased Fellows. You will find in this list names well known to many of you already, but also several others. No doubt in due course, there will be a memoir for Michael Woolfson who passed away recently.
The question of making available raw data is of current interest internationally. Here, we crystallographers and especially the IUCr have been well ahead of the game because, through much of the last century, crystal structure publications have often included tables of structure factors. I well remember as a graduate student many hours of delight having to copy them out by hand in order to put them into our Ferranti Pegasus Mark II computer! Here, Simon Coles and Amy Serjeant describe their raw data survey with an emphasis on small-molecule crystallography.
Finally, we tend to associate the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with nuclear energy. However, it also has been involved in accelerators, including those used in synchrotron radiation. You can read a compelling account here on this aspect of the work of the IAEA and how it is providing expertise and aid to developing countries. For instance, the construction of the SESAME synchrotron in Jordan is of significance as is the programme for African countries.
One more thing. At present, many countries are in lockdown, and here in the UK people over the age of 70 (e.g. me!) are likely to be confined to our homes for months. I think the same is, or soon will be, true elsewhere. Let us hope that the news will be better soon, but we have to be prepared for the long haul and serious changes to our way of living. No-one knows how all this will turn out. In the meantime, I hope you will all remain healthy.
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