The laboratory of Dame Kathleen Lonsdale at University College London from 1966 to 1968 and then fifty years later
This article takes a snapshot of the laboratory of Dame Kathleen Lonsdale at University College London between 1966 and 1968, when I served as a postdoctoral fellow. I arrived, a freshly minted PhD from Cornell University, New York, thrilled to meet Prof. (as we then called Dame Kathleen Lonsdale), whom I had admired from afar for many years. I arrived with a background in mathematics and crystallography. Prof., with her contribution to both mathematical crystallography (e.g. as an author of the International Tables for X-ray Crystallography, Lonsdale & Henry, 1952; Lonsdale & Kasper, 1959; Lonsdale et al., 1962) and practical crystallography (e.g. proving the planarity of the benzene ring; Lonsdale, 1929), meant I was entering my dream job. Her involvement in the peace movement (Glazer, 2015; Lonsdale, 1942, 1949, 1957) and social justice (e.g. prison reform after having spent some time in prison as a pacifist) was equally appealing. Having a successful female role model and working in a research group with future stars, both male and female, was the icing on the cake. During my years as a postdoc in the group, I developed life-long friendships with the lab members. This article concludes with a summary of where these scholars from the late 1960s are fifty years later.
University College London 1966 to 1968: Prof.’s last two years before retirement
The physical laboratory and equipment
The laboratory was located in D1, the basement of the stately white-stone Chemistry building on Gower Street, University College London. See Fig. 1. Because of the need for lead shielding, high voltage, water and heavy equipment, crystallography labs were always found in the basement at that time. The X-ray ports had Weissenberg and precession cameras as well as Unicam 3-cm radius cameras for single-crystal rotation and oscillation work. These cameras used photographic film developed in a nearby darkroom. A Ferranti Pegasus Mark II computer contained hundreds of plug-in electronic modules consisting of two or three vacuum tubes each. A convenient supply of replacement vacuum tubes was on hand; it was not uncommon for a vacuum tube to fail, suddenly bringing all calculations to a halt. Binary data were entered by narrow 5-hole paper tape. Unusual for the time, this computer was for the exclusive use of Prof.’s lab.
In the corner of the lab was an 1800s electromagnet in a beautiful large wooden case. When we grumbled about our equipment, Prof. often pointed out to the group that when she returned to W. H. Bragg’s lab after the birth of her third child, there was no diffraction equipment available, and yet she did very well with this abandoned electromagnet. In fact, as a result, she published experimental work on the diamagnetic anisotropy of aliphatic compounds (Lonsdale, 1937). Screwed to the wall was a signed original print of 'Day and Night' given to Prof. by M. C. Escher when he spoke on symmetry in his art at the 1960 IUCr Congress.
The laboratory was headed by Prof., age 66 at the time, who was born in Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland, the daughter of a postmaster for the British army. She was raised in England and attended Bedford College, a higher-education college for women. W. H. Bragg was one of her oral examiners for her BSc degree in physics and was so impressed by her that he offered her a position in his laboratory at the Royal Institution, where later she received a DSc. In 1945 she founded her own crystallography group at University College London (Hodgkin, 1975). H. Judith Milledge (née Grenville-Wells), age 39 at the time, experimentalist extraordinaire, was second in command. See Fig. 2. Judith was born in South Africa and, after earning a BSc and an MSc from Rhodes University, joined the De Beers Diamond Research Laboratory in Johannesburg. In 1949 she came to University College London as a PhD student to study diamonds with Prof. They became good friends and made a wonderful team, perfectly complementing and enhancing each other’s research. D. June Sutor, age 37 at the time, was born in New Zealand. She earned a PhD from both the University of Auckland and Cambridge University and had done fundamental work in hydrogen bonding (Extance, 2019). She led the body stone group. Marianne Ehrenberg, had received her PhD from Prof. by solving the crystal structure of an organic molecule showing oestrogenic activity using two-dimensional Patterson and electron-density synthesis (Ehrenberg, 1963). She published the crystal structures of many organic crystals.
The research foci of the laboratory were divided into three sections: solid-state reactions, diamond inclusions and body stones.
Solid-state reactionsProf. was interested in geometrical changes in single crystals during phase transitions caused by heat, pressure, time or irradiation. These phase transitions included isomerizations, dimerizations and mixed crystals or solid solutions. For example, she obtained X-ray patterns of crystals of anthracene peroxide, which after a few hours of radiation developed new reflections. After further irradiation, the original X-ray pattern completely disappeared, showing that the original crystal structure had transitioned into a new and different crystal structure (Lonsdale et al., 1966).
After receiving a PhD in physical chemistry from Queen’s University in 1966, Terrance Rummery studied colorless crystals that turned deep red when melted and then recrystallized into yellow crystals, again indicating a change in structure (Rummery, 1968). See Fig. 3. Maureen O’Donnell Julian observed the dimerization of anthracene: transparent crystals of anthracene turned yellow when exposed to UV radiation with wavelengths less than 3000 Å. Using the energy provided by UV, the crystal changed, in part, into new crystals of the dimer (O’Donnell, 1968; Julian, 1972, 1973). The structure of the anthracene dimer, di-para-anthracene, was solved by Marianne Ehrenberg (Ehrenberg, 1966). PhD student Mike Glazer, a Londoner and a graduate of St Andrew’s University, Scotland, worked on diffuse scattering in mixed crystals of phenazine and N-oxyphenazine. Another PhD student, Howard Flack, a graduate of the University of Nottingham, made similar studies on anthrone and anthraquinone (Flack & Glazer, 1970). Eugene Hoff had an MD from Columbia University, NY, and worked on rubrene, a red organic semiconductor that is used as the yellow light source in light sticks. See Fig. 4. Don Emerson also worked on small organic crystals (Milledge & Harris, 1969; Milledge et al., 1969) and T. Richard Welberry developed an interest in modeling cell growth disorder (Welberry & Galbraith, 1973). Another PhD student, Josh Thomas, came from Oxford University to UCL with an interest in low-temperature experimentation, and built and tested a helium temperature cryostat for direct measurements of zero-point vibrations in single crystals (Croft & Thomas, 1969). He also was the first to carry out powder Rietveld refinement using X-rays (Malmros & Thomas, 1977).
Diamonds are borne to Earth’s surface in volcanic ultrabasic magmas, principally of kimberlite and much rarer of lamproite. These volcanoes are found in ancient cratonic regions of Earth, such as Africa, Canada and Russia. The inclusions inside diamonds can be used to gain information about the inaccessible mantle. PhD student Jeff Harris, a graduate of the University of Liverpool, measured the cell parameters of inclusions both inside the diamond and after their removal from diamond (Harris, 1968). PhD student Richard Henriques, from Jamaica, studied the orientations of olivine inclusions in the diamond crystal (Harris et al., 1966).
Prof.’s extensive body stone collection, begun with a gift from the urologist D. A. Anderson, contained the two-inch-long bladder stone of Napoleon III, who died in 1873 as a result of an operation to remove it (Lonsdale, 1968). Body stones are found in the urinary tract, the gallbladder and in the salivary glands, and can vary in size from a few millimetres to tens of centimetres. June Sutor identified the constituents by grinding them into a powder and using X-rays to identify the compounds (Lonsdale et al., 1968). PhD student Robin Shirley, who was born in Harrow (North London) and had a BSc in chemistry from UCL, wrote computer programs for X-ray analysis of these powders (Shirley & Sutor, 1968).
A few stories
Howard Flack would put a mop over his head to make a convincing caricature of Prof. and scare the daylights out of us. He did an excellent imitation of her voice. Judith Milledge used to treat us individually to a fancy restaurant. I remember her having the chef concoct a special dessert that contained hazelnuts. One year, the group lab outing was a ride on the Bluebell Railway steam trains, an 11-mile heritage line in West Sussex. Maureen O’Donnell Julian was married at the University of London Chaplaincy at 111 Gower Street on a Wednesday, which Prof. declared to be a holiday. June Sutor was the bridesmaid, and Jeff Harris and Eric Nave took the pictures that illustrate this article. See Figs. 5 to 8. Immediately afterwards, as part of Prof.’s long-term dedication to advocacy, she visited a women’s prison.
Fifty years later
Five have died: Prof., June Sutor, Robin Shirley, Howard Flack and Judith Milledge, in that order. Dame Kathleen Lonsdale (1903–1971) retired in September 1968; just before she died, she permanently stored references to help her students get positions. June Sutor (1929–1990) continued at University College London until her death by cancer. She left a considerable fortune to the Moorfields Eye Hospital. Robin Shirley (1941–2005) was in the Department of Chemistry and then in Psychology at the University of Surrey, where he continued his interest in X-ray powder indexing and was a popular teacher of statistics. In 1972, Howard Flack (1943–2017) located to the Laboratoire de Cristallographie at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, where he worked to improve the collection of experimental diffraction data. The well known Flack parameter is used to estimate the absolute configuration of a crystal structure. He was also interested in theoretical symmetry, particularly the partially ordered sets, for example, in the relations among the Bravais lattices. After Prof.’s death, the Geology Department took over the building. To maintain the same physical lab, Judith Milledge (1927–2021) transferred the crystallography group to the Geology Department, where she continued the diamond research. Particular areas of focus were the formation of diamonds, isotopic compositions, inclusions and defects. She had a huge collection of diamonds which, after retirement, she split between South Africa and the United Kingdom (Wood et al., 2021).
Members of this laboratory have spread out all over the world. Here is a short summary in alphabetical order. Marianne Ehrenberg taught at Sir John Cass College, London, and later at the City of London Polytechnic. Don Emerson is a geophysical consultant in Australia specializing in the physics of minerals and rocks. He studied the relationship between iron content and paramagnetic susceptibility in rocks (Clark & Emerson, 1991). Don also has an interest in ancient and medieval geoscience. Mike Glazer is now an emeritus Professor of Physics at Jesus College, Oxford University. He invented a classification system for tilted octahedra in perovskites (Glazer, 1972, 2021; Glazer & Burns, 2013). Mike has been active in the IUCr and loves the history of crystallography. Jeff Harris is now an emeritus senior research fellow at the University of Glasgow and holds honorary professorships at the Universities of Frankfurt and Alberta. He continues to conduct research into mineral inclusions in diamonds (https://cms.eas.ualberta.ca/team-diamond/contact-us/members/jeff-harris/; Harris et al., 2022). Eugene Hoff returned to medicine, where he practised psychiatry, first in New York City, and later, at San Quentin Prison, California. Maureen O’Donnell Julian teaches crystallography at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, now by Zoom. She wrote a widely used textbook (Julian, 2015). Currently, she is studying relationships between crystallographic groups and their related abstract groups with emphasis on partially ordered sets. David Puxley went into industrial X-ray diffraction in the Analytical Division of the British Gas Cooperation, London. Terrance Rummery became President of Atomic Energy Canada (Research), where he focused on the safe disposal of used nuclear fuel. Corrosion was also an important aspect of his work (Rummery & MacDonald, 1975). Josh Thomas is an emeritus Professor of Solid-State Electrochemistry at Uppsala University, Sweden. In 2009, he founded the Ångström Advanced Battery Centre. He developed a furnace for lithium battery studies (Eriksson et al., 2001). In 1975, Richard Welberry moved to Australia and is now an emeritus Professor at the Institute of Advanced Studies at the Australian National University. His field is the analysis of diffuse X-ray scattering (Welberry, 2004).
The Kathleen Lonsdale Building at University College London officially opened in 2018, and houses the Department of Earth Sciences.
Mike Glazer wrote (Glazer, 2005):
"A few years ago, I was fortunate to be invited to the Science Museum to see the unveiling of a Ferranti Pegasus Mark II computer that Robin and the Society had managed to restore and get working. This was the very same machine that I, Howard Flack and Robin used during our graduate research, and I believe that it is now the only working valve computer in the world. Robin and I felt quite nostalgic when it was switched on to play 'Teddy Bear’s Picnic' and 'Rocking through the Rye' (we used to play this during long hours at night working on this machine)."
We conclude with a poem written by Robin Shirley for the IUCr Congress in Glasgow (Shirley, 1999):
The Zen of Scale
Launched on a journey
across the void of dimensions
from the intricate tapestry of tissues
to the rhythms encoded in atoms
arriving at last
to orbit electron-gas giants.
Thanks to Mike Glazer for suggesting I write an article on University College London and to Jeff Harris, Josh Thomas and Mike for their memories. Carla Slebodnick and Kathleen Julian helped with editing.
Eriksson, T., Andersson, A. M., Bergström, Ö., Edström, K., Gustafsson, T. & Thomas, J. O. (2001). A furnace for in situ X-ray diffraction studies of insertion processes in electrode materials at elevated temperatures. J. Appl. Cryst. 34, 654–657.
Flack, H. D. & Glazer, A. M. (1970). Short-range order, thermal vibrations, and expansion, and other properties of pseudosymmetric and mixed crystal of small organic molecules. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. A, 266, 559–639.
Harris, J., Henriques, R. & Meyer, H. O. A. (1966). Orientation of silicate-mineral inclusions in natural diamond. Acta Cryst. 21, A259.
Harris, J. W., Smit, K., Fedortchouk, Y. & Moore, M. (2022). In Diamond: Genesis, Mineralogy and Geochemistry, ch. 2, Reviews in Mineralogy and Geochemistry, Vol. 88, edited by K. Smit, S. Shirey, G. Pearson, T. Stachel, F. Nestola & T. Moses.
Lonsdale, K., Sutor, D. J. & Wooley, S. (1968). Composition of urinary calculi by X-ray diffraction. Collected data from various localities: 1. Norwich (England) and District, 1773–1961. Brit. J. Urol. 40, 33–36.
Milledge, H. J. & Harris, J. W. (1969). Morphology of mineral inclusions in diamond. Acta Cryst. A25, S246.
Milledge, H. J., Hoff, E. R. & O'Donnell, M. D. (1969). Solid state process in some organic crystals. Acta Cryst. A25, S233.
Maureen M. Julian is from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Virginia Tech, USA, and is happy to receive comments on this article (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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