A travelling exhibition opens at UNESCO: Journey into the Crystal

© Jean-Louis Hodeau, Rock crystals are a natural phenomenon.

The United Nations has proclaimed 2014 International Year of Crystallography because this science is little-known to the public, even though it underpins much of research into matter in physics, chemistry, new materials and life sciences. You can find applications of crystallography in almost every field of scientific or technical activity, applications that are a key vector for innovation.

In 2014, a travelling exhibition entitled Journey into the Crystal will take visitors on a journey of discovery of matter − but also on a journey through time to the beginnings of crystallography.

First to host the exhibition was UNESCO in Paris, from 20 to 21 January 2014 (Salle des Actes). The exhibition was a side event of the Opening Ceremony for the International Year of Crystallography. The Year is led by UNESCO, in partnership with the International Union of Crystallography. The exhibition has been designed by a team coordinated by Jean-Louis Hodeau, a researcher with the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) who is also a member of the French Crystallographic Association.

The exhibition exists in Arabic, English, Flemish, French, Russian, Slovakian and several other languages. Now, it is taking to the road.

Several destinations have already been programmed for 2014:

Africa: Algeria, Côte d’ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Morocco

Asia: Bangladesh, India, Pakistan

Europe: Belgium,Finland, France, Sweden

Latin America: Argentina, Uruguay

Other countries are invited to express interest in hosting the exhibition in 2014 and beyond by writing to jean-louis.Hodeau(at)grenoble.cnrs.fr

A voyage of discovery

Through this Journey into the Crystal, the public will discover why crystal intrigues people so much, why it is so useful to science and why it plays such an important role in our daily lives. The numerous applications of crystallography not only affect our lives but also help us to understand the world in which we live. Here are just some examples of applications which owe their existence to crystallography: your car headlights, your Ipad, your medication, our knowledge of the centre of the Earth….

Learn about the birth of crystallography and the multiple facets of crystals:

  • An objet of beauty
  • A pivotal objet for science that brings us essential knowledge about matter
  • A contemporary object with numerous applications.

You will discover, for example:

© Jean-Louis Hodeau
International Year of Crystallography 2014 - Exhibition, UNESCO Paris

The myths surrounding diamonds and how we have learned so much about diamonds, thanks to crystallography, including the surprising fact that diamonds will burn. The photo above shows the difference between the structure of graphite (foreground) and that of diamond (middle). Both graphite and diamond are composed of pure carbon. Why then is graphite soft and opaque, whereas a diamond is hard and shiny? The answer lies in the structure of their chemical bonds, which is far more rigid for diamond than for graphite. (Read the exhibition poster on one of the most common minerals: quartz).

© Jean-Louis Hodeau
International Year of Crystallography 2014 - Exhibition, UNESCO Paris

How, in the 18th and 19th centuries, scientists still managed to imagine the architecture of crystals, even though they could not use X-rays to see inside them. In the photo above, we can see a mosaic which imitates the shape of a crystal (left) and that of a quasi-crystal (five-sided pattern in the middle) with their regular, symmetrical patterns.

© UNESCO/P. Chiang-Joo
International Year of Crystallography, Exhibition at UNESCO Paris

Here, a laser is the source of the light being used to‘diffract.’ A century ago, Max von Laue was the first to realize that crystals bent X-rays, or in other words, that they diffracted light. This discovery was used by his colleagues W. H. Bragg and W. L. Bragg to determine the internal structure of solids. Thanks to the accomplishments of these three scientists, we are able to understand the atomic arrangement of solids. This is essential for inventing new materials or understanding how they work and applying this knowledge.

Photo 51 showing that the structure of DNA is a double helix. It was this image obtained by Rosalind Franklin which enabled Crick and Watson to complete their DNA model. © Raymond Gosling / King's College London

The discovery of DNA and the use of crystallography to understand the biological world and thus the secret of life. Here, we can see an image taken in 1953 by crystallographer Rosalind Franklin showing that DNA is the shape of a double helix. Since 1962, the crystal structure of about 90,000 proteins, nucleic acids and other biological molecules has been solved, thanks to X-ray crystallography. This knowledge has greatly contributed to the development of new drugs and thus to the expansion of the pharmaceutical industry. (Read the poster on the use of crystallography to understand life).

© ESRF/Muséum de Grenoble, photo de Jean-Louis Hodeau
International Year of Crystallography 2014 - Exhibition, UNESCO Paris

This apparatus was used at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility by Nobel laureate Brian Kobilka. In the 1980s, he identified the gene which regulates the formation of the receptor for adrenalin. (Receptors are present in every cell. ) Together with Robert Lefkowitz, he also demonstrated that this receptor was similar to receptors located in the eye that capture light. It was later discovered that there is an entire family of receptors that look and act in similar ways, known as G-protein-coupled receptors. About half of all medications used today make use of this kind of receptor.

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