Biochemist, Biochemistry Department, University of Cambridge
Tom Blundell worked on the structure of insulin as a research student, under the supervision of Nobel Prize-winning crystallographer Dorothy Hodgkin. He now studies the underlying chemistry of diseases -- work that has led to new treatments for cancer, AIDS, and diabetes.
He is photographed here in front of Charles Jencks’ sculpture of the DNA double helix in Clare College, Cambridge. The DNA double-helix structure was established through crystallography, and is a crucial building block of Tom’s research.
Chemist, School of Chemistry, University of Glasgow
Serena Corr is seen here with the defining image of crystallography: the diffraction pattern. This pattern is the key to all crystallography experiments – the intensity, geometry and location of the dark spots reveal the atomic structure of the molecule under study.
Serena uses these patterns to look at magnetic particles that may help drugs seek out cancer cells, and new materials to improve lithium-ion batteries for smart phones and tablets.
Mineralogist, Natural History Museum, London
Paul Schofield studies meteorites using a range of techniques, including X-ray diffraction. Identifying the minerals inside a meteorite tells him how it formed and, in many cases, where it came from in the Solar System.
The mineral gallery at the National History Museum in London is full of wonderful crystal samples from our planet and beyond. The quartz specimen that Paul is holding is one example of a single crystal which was formed underground over many hundreds of years and shows the size crystals can reach.
Chemist, School of Physical Sciences, University of Kent
Emma McCabe uses crystallography in her research to investigate how magnetic atoms in metal-oxide crystals can be adjusted to improve the magnetic properties of materials, such as those used to make computer memory and hard disks.
The arrangement of atoms in crystals is determined through crystallography experiments. Traditionally, these crystal structures were visualised using ‘ball and stick’ models, now superseded by computer graphics.
Chemist, Chemistry Department, University of Bath
Chick Wilson studies how weak bonding via hydrogen atoms supports biological molecules such as DNA, proteins, and enzymes, and helps organise the packing of molecules in many crystal structures.
He is seen here in front of a 'continuous crystalliser', which he uses to vary temperature and humidity in order to optimise the production of crystalline medicines. Exposing these crystals to X-rays or neutrons reveals their intricate structures.
Chemist, Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory, University of Oxford
Andrew Goodwin was photographed at the Mathematical Institute at the University of Oxford on a floor made of Penrose tiles, which represent the pattern of quasicrystals. These unusual structures are ordered, but without a repeating pattern.
Andrew researches how disorder and flexibility between atoms in crystal structures might make a material useful. He likes to study the unexpected, such as materials that contract when heated or expand when squashed. His research could lead to more resilient plumbing, concrete, or body armour.
Chemist, STFC ISIS Facility, Didcot
Sam Callear is an instrument scientist at the ISIS pulsed neutron and muon facility, where she uses neutron crystallography to investigate materials for sustainable energy storage. This powder diffractometer, called Polaris, is an ideal machine for her experiments.
As well as looking at the response of chemical compounds to hydrogen and methane gas, she is also studying how drug molecules are affected by their surroundings.
Physicist, Physics Department, University of Oxford
Mike Glazer, together with John Cosier, invented a method to cool small crystals in a very cold stream of gas. Their spin-out company, Oxford Cryosystems, has supplied scientists around the world with the ‘Cryostream’ device, like the one that Mike is holding.
Mike has used their invention to study a class of crystals called perovskites, many of which are used as sensors because they generate an electric current when squeezed. Recent research suggests that they may also make good solar cells.
Microbiologist, Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, University of Oxford
Like an artist mixing colours, the creativity involved in combining molecules to reveal exciting new structures is one reason why Susan Lea was drawn to science; indeed, she considered a career in design before choosing microbiology. She now studies the processes that occur when an invading virus or bacterium interacts with molecules in our bodies.
Susan is standing in front of cloth made to one of the designs for the ‘From Atoms to Patterns’ exhibition at the Festival of Britain in 1951. The beautiful patterns from crystallography have long been closely linked to artistic imagery and interpretation.
Macromolecular Crystallographer, Institute for Cell and Molecular Biosciences, Newcastle University
A lecturer in structural biology at Newcastle University, Paula Salgado studies the structures of proteins involved in infections, particularly those caused by emerging hospital-acquired microorganisms, or ‘superbugs’.
Paula aims to contribute to the development of more effective treatments to counter these virulent bacteria and fungi by understanding the shapes and functions of the proteins, and how they might bind to the molecules in potential therapeutic drugs.
Structural Biologist, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, University of Cambridge
Venki Ramakrishnan uses X-ray crystallography to understand how large molecules synthesise proteins in the body. In 2006 he succeeded in determining the structure of the ribosome, one of the most complex crystal structures ever tackled. This achievement won him the 2009 Nobel Prize in chemistry.
The ribosome is a huge and intricate biological machine that uses the genetic information in DNA to form proteins, the building blocks of life, which control all processes within our bodies.
Chemist, Chemistry Department, Durham University
Judith Howard started her research career working with pioneering crystallographer Dorothy Hodgkin on insulin. Judith has many interests in materials chemistry, and has developed novel techniques for looking at crystals at a rather chilly –271°C.
The beauty of crystallography lies not only in the molecular structures but also in the experiment. Scientists like Judith draw electron-density maps; strongly contoured features give the locations of the atoms in the molecule, just as contours in a topographic map outline mountains and hills.
Macromolecular Crystallographer, Diamond Light Source, Didcot
Anna Warren works as a protein crystallographer at Diamond Light Source. She uses a high-intensity X-ray beam to probe tiny crystals, from which she can deduce the structure of the crystals at the molecular level. The high-intensity X-rays are very damaging to the crystals, so Anna has to work quickly, probing each crystal for just a few seconds.
The intricate diagrams Anna has drawn on the mirror are a short-hand way to describe how symmetry (reflections, rotations, etc.) dictates how atoms and molecules pack in crystals.
Rolls Royce Fellow, Rolls Royce, Derby
David Rugg’s research is intricately linked to crystallography as it helps him identify superior metal alloys that can withstand the extreme stresses experienced by jet engines during flight.
Crystals can be tiny or extremely large; a case in point is the turbine blade. This is made from a single, carefully grown crystal which meets the necessary stringent requirements for material properties. Sitting behind David are wide-chord fan blades manufactured from advanced titanium alloys.
Chemical Oceanographer, University of Bangor
Hilary Kennedy uses crystallography to see how minerals form in very cold seas, often working at temperatures below –20°C.
Her work helps us learn more about the extreme environments of Antarctica, by uncovering the natural world hidden within sea ice and in the sediments deep beneath our coldest oceans.
Chemist, Chemistry Department, University of Liverpool
Sam Chong makes crystal powders to study the atomic structures of cage-like molecules that can trap gases. She is pictured by the X-ray diffractometer on beamline I11 at Diamond Light Source.
Sam explores how her powdered materials react to gases or to temperature changes; her experiments at Diamond simulate ‘real-life’ conditions. She aims to develop materials capable of capturing harmful gases, thereby creating cleaner air.
Structural Biologist, Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford and Life Sciences Director, Diamond Light Source, Didcot
David Stuart is a biologist who studies viruses; how they infect, spread, and evolve, and how they can be treated with targeted medicines.
He is holding a sculpture of the hand, foot and mouth virus, a childhood disease that infects 1.6 million people each year. David solved the structure of the virus at Diamond Light Source and has since created a potential cure for this currently untreatable disease. His work may also lead to new treatments for other diseases, such as polio.
Biochemist, Biochemistry Department, University of Oxford
Jonathan Brooks-Barlett is a research student studying for a PhD at Oxford University. In his thesis he will use complex mathematics to calculate how X-ray radiation damages the 3-D order of protein crystals.
This radiation can cause crystals to fall apart in the X-ray beam, rendering any data from the analysis useless. Jonathan’s research will produce improvements to the diffraction technique and will mean that crystallographers can get more reliable data from their experiments.
Physicist, STFC ISIS Facility, Didcot and Physics Department, University of Oxford
David Keen studies crystal structures that behave in unusual ways when their atoms become disordered; they might unexpectedly melt, change into a glass, or start conducting electricity.
Hundreds of holes were dug in the sand in Porthcawl beach in South Wales to portray the neutron diffraction pattern from a quartz crystal. Quartz is one of the minerals David has studied and is a common component of sand.
Chemist, School of Chemistry, University of Edinburgh
Stephen Moggach is interested in the way that materials change their structure when exposed to gas or squeezed by extreme pressures.
The molecules in a structure may be arranged in a very open framework full of empty space, like an atomic-scale sponge. Stephen works with these structures, which have the potential to capture harmful gases and prevent them from being released into the atmosphere.
Macromolecular Crystallographer, GlaxoSmithKline, Stevenage
Margarete grows crystals of biological molecules which are analysed by X-ray crystallography in order to understand how they interact with potential new medicines. The crystal on her pupil is a reflection from her computer screen.
GlaxoSmithKline is a science-led global healthcare company with research and development in a broad range of innovative products covering pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and consumer healthcare. Crystallography helps their scientists develop medicines to treat a wide variety of acute and chronic diseases.