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[Congress Report]The Ewald Prize

[GN Ramachandran]At the opening ceremony of the XVII IUCr Congress in Glasgow, the Ewald Prize was awarded to Professor G.N. Ramachandran for fundamental contributions in the area of anomalous scattering, and the phase problem, the analysis of the structure of fibres, and the conformational analysis of macromolecular structures.

G.N. Ramachandran was born in 1922 in Kerala, a southern Indian state. He obtained his first degree in Madras and went on to pursue a Masters degree in electrical engineering at the Indian Inst. of Science in Bangalore. In Bangalore, the Nobel Laureate, C.V. Raman, urged Ramachandran to pursue a career in physics. (Raman told the Professor of Electrical Engineering that Ramachandran was simply too bright to be an electrical engineer). Ramachandran earned his M.Sc. and D.Sc. degrees with Raman working on the X-ray topography of diamond. In 1947, he went to Cambridge where he measured elastic constants using diffuse X-ray scattering.

Ramachandran returned to India and over the next 30 to 40 years, he established leading research centres of crystallography and structural biology at Madras and Bangalore. In 1952, at the suggestion of J.D. Bernal, he took up the fibre diffraction analysis of collagen and produced important early models of the structure. This modelling exercise led to a thoughtful analysis of the relationship between peptide and amino acid conformations in protein secondary structure. This analysis led to his most widely applied contribution, the Ramachandran Plot used universally to characterize protein conformations and evaluate the accuracy of protein structure determinations.

In 1956, with S. Raman, Ramachandran derived formula for calculating phase angles using Bijvoet differences that were successfully used to solve several crystal structures. Ramachandran made significant contributions to the use of Fourier transforms in structure dermination. He wrote “Fourier Methods in Crystallography” with Srinivasan. Ramachandran established a remarkable scientific tradition, that thrives in the world, in India and in the two research schools he founded.

Paul Barnes and M. Vijayan