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Disputed discovery: the beginnings of X-ray diffraction in crystals in 1912 and its repercussions

Acta Cryst. (2012). 68, 30–39 (

[Max von Laue] Max von Laue (1879–1960) with diffraction patterns obtained from crystals of copper sulfate (top left) and zinc blende (bottom right), and the experimental setup used [W. Friedrich, P. Knipping & M. Laue (1912). Sitzungsber. K. Bayer. Akad. Wiss. pp. 303–322].

The discovery of X-ray diffraction by crystals in 1912 was motivated by misapprehensions. Max von Laue expected an interference of characteristic X-rays emitted by the crystal atoms. The ensuing experiments by W. H. and W. L. Bragg clarified the phenomenon, although they too started from erroneous assumptions about the nature of X-rays. The discovery and its application for X-ray crystallography received a swift recognition by the Nobel awards to Laue and the Braggs in 1914 and 1915, respectively, but the circumstances of the discovery remained the subject of dispute.

M. Eckert