Mike Glazer
Aurostibite (drawn using CrystalMaker).

So, the IUCr Congress in Prague has passed successfully. I have to take my hat off to Radek Kužel and his team, working under the most difficult of circumstances, caused by … you know what. I don’t know how they managed it, but I think it is likely that hybrid meetings like this will probably become the standard in the future. It went off so smoothly and professionally. I was able to tune into several talks from France, where I was staying at the time. Marvellous! One result is that we have a new President, Hanna Dabkowska, and Vice-President, Santiago García-Granda. Congratulations to them both.

I am sorry to say that it has been a lousy year for crystallographers this year, as so many have gone. In this issue, we have obituaries for Carroll JohnsonJohn Reid, Hans Boysen, John Squire, John Spence and Tibor Koritsanszky. And then, very recently, we have heard of the death of Jack Dunitz, a well-known figure to all crystallographers. I hope we shall have an obituary for him in the next issue.

Here, we have several articles on the great J. D. Bernal, who died 50 years ago. These articles were recently printed in the British Crystallographic Association’s Crystallography News, and I am pleased that John Finney, the Editor, has allowed us to reprint them here. Bernal was one of those towering figures in crystallography, a man of incredible intellect and influence. Every crystallographer should know about him. There is an excellent book on his life by Andrew Brown entitled J. D. Bernal: The Sage of Science. It is well worth a read, especially if you are interested in the history of our subject. Bernal was not only a key figure in crystallography, he was someone with many other interests. He was controversial for his views on Marxism, with the result that he was better known in the Soviet Union than here in the West.

This reminds me of a story. Many years ago, I was having a coffee at Birmingham (UK) airport when I noticed at the next table a man reading Andrew Brown’s book. So, I leant over to him and said to him that I had known Bernal myself. It appeared that he was writing a review for one of our newspapers, The Daily Telegraph (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/3649528/The-unknown-polymathic-crystallographer.html). He said to me, “You know, Bernal was such an evil man!” Of course, I swiftly tried to put him right, but I don’t think to much avail.

I recall meeting Bernal a few times at Birkbeck College, London. The first time was when the late Howard Flack and I were students in 1966 in the laboratory of Kathleen Lonsdale and used to attend evening classes on crystallography at Birkbeck. At one point, Bernal came in to address us. He was by this time very ill, having had a stroke. I remember that he was in a wheelchair and had a massive loudspeaker through which he could try to talk. It was sad to see him in this state, and the poor man must have felt very frustrated. He was at that time President of the IUCr, but, because of illness, he was unable to attend the Moscow IUCr Congress that year; instead, Kathleen Lonsdale stood in for him as acting President.

So do get a copy of Brown’s book if you can. It is well written and fully explores all the intriguing aspects of the life of Bernal. One minor correction I would make. Brown mentions that Bernal invented the phrase “weapons of mass destruction.” However, this first appeared in a book called We (Мы) by Yevgeny Zamyatin in 1921, which described a dystopian world. I am reasonably sure that, given Bernal’s interest in Russia, he must have been aware of this.

One of Bernal’s most famous students was Dorothy (Crowfoot) Hodgkin, who had so many images of her published, including on postage stamps. Magdolna and Istvan Hargittai tell us about a couple of less well-known pictures of her. Just recently, a short BBC video about the life of Dorothy Hodgkin has appeared at https://www.bbc.co.uk/ideas/videos/the-exceptional-life-of-dorothy-crowfoot-hodgkin/p09x02lh?playlist=made-in-partnership-with-the-royal-society.

Another major article in this issue is on the 100 years history of ferroelectricity, written by Nicola Spaldin and Ram Seshadri. Ferroelectricity is a phenomenon exhibited by certain crystalline materials in which an electric polarization can be switched by an external electric field, much like the way magnetisation can be switched by an applied magnetic field in ferromagnets. Nicola tells me that she had a lot of fun researching this topic.

Leopoldo Suescun also tells us about teaching symmetry in the Latin American countries. This has been mainly within the framework of the IUCr Commission on Mathematical and Theoretical Crystallography. Crystallography has been growing fast in this region, where they have their own crystallographic association, LACA.

Finally, many of you will remember Michael Woolfson, who died in 2019. Now, the Royal Society has made available his biographical memoir written by Keith Wilson and Eleanor Dodson.

27 September 2021

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