Impact of Structural Science

Structural science advanced from the first crystal structures of sodium chloride and diamond in 1913 to ever-larger structures: proteins such as hemoglobin, DNA, the ribosome, viruses, and even non-crystalline materials. The technology to produce x-rays progressed from the first x-ray tubes to synchrotron radiation to free electron lasers, while computer hardware and software continues to make determining structures faster and more precise. Structural information is fundamental to many fields – from biology to materials science. The importance of these discoveries is reflected in the many Nobel Prizes awarded in the area of structural science.

In the 21st century structural science combines x-ray diffraction with additional methods such as cryo-electron microscopy, micro-electron diffraction, nuclear magnetic resonance, and molecular modeling. For example, the structure of viruses obtained by these combined methods is crucial for combating illness. These and other discoveries impact our economy, healthcare, and our everyday understanding of the natural world.


Interactive displays of the many aspects of crystallography and structural science...more


“Periodic Table of Crystals” 
periodic tableThe CCDC partnered with the British Crystallographic Association to celebrate the 2019 International Year of the Periodic Table the way we know best: with crystal structures! Each element in the Periodic Table has a dedicated web page, where you can find more information and fun facts about the element as well as a crystal structure to celebrate it. More…


"Advanced Photon Source helps Pfizer create COVID-19 antiviral treatment”

The first oral treatment for COVID-19, the protease inhibitor Paxlovid (Nirmatrelvir), was developed by Pfizer scientists in collaboration with crystallographers at APS (Advanced Photon Source), Argonne National Laboratory. The FDA has approved Paxlovid for emergency use. The structure of Paxlovid bound to the protease was determined at the IMCA-CAT beamline at the APS. The beamline is operated by the HWI (Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute). ACA members Lisa Keefe, Ann Mulichak, Erica Duguid and Jesse Yoder are mentioned as contributors.


“Celebrating 50 Years of the Protein Data Bank Archive”

The Protein Data Bank celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2021 with more than 170,000 molecular structures available video


"Structural biology in the time of COVID-19; perspectives on methods and milestones" 

Miranda L. Lynch, Edward H. Snell and Sarah E.J. Bowman, IUCrJ (2021) 8(3) 355-341.

The one-year anniversary of the declaration of the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 as a pandemic, combined with the 50th anniversary of the PDB, provides a unique occasion to observe the role played by structural methods in the fight against COVID-19. A revealing portrait of the many contributions of the structural biology community is presented
…. more

Impact of structural biologists and the Protein Data Bank on small-molecule drug discovery and development

Stephen K. Burley, J. Biol. Chem (2021) 296 100559.

Three examples are presented showing how PDB structures were crucial in development of antineoplastic drugs.  

 "COVID-19 and cryo-EM"

covid19Sriram Subramaniam, IUCrJ, vol 7(4) July 2020.

Cryo-electron microscopy has been rapidly applied to study the structure of SARS-CoV-2, research which will be crucial to our understanding of the molecular basis of infection. 


"The role of Crystallography and other Structural Sciences in Covid-19 therapies"

David Rose; with input from Brian TobyKristin StevensGeorge Lountos & Chelsy Chesterman, April 2020. 

“Visualizing an unseen enemy; mobilizing structural biology to counter COVID-19”

sarsEdward N. Baker, IUCrJ, vol 7(3) May 2020.

My purpose in writing this editorial, however, is to applaud the energy and skill of the researchers, and their public spirit in sharing their results. And I take a vicarious pride in the fact that the discipline to which I have given my professional life – crystallography – has such an important role at a time of international crisis.”  More…


“The data universe of structural biology”

data  Helen M. Berman, Brinda Vallet, Catherine L. Lawson, IUCrJ, vol 7(4) July 2020.

 Crystallographers have a long tradition of effective data management practices. It is intriguing to speculate on the origins of these practices. Perhaps the requirement for ordered crystals carries over into a need for ordered results. Or perhaps it is a consequence of the fact that crystallographic experiments generate large volumes of data, yielding definitive results that are utilized by many other scientists… more 


“A shared vision for macromolecular crystallography over the next five years”

 Andreas Förster, and Clemens Schulze-Briese, Struct. Dyn. 6, 064302 (2019).

This article is part of the Special Issue: Transactions from the 69th Annual Meeting of the American Crystallographic Association: Data Best Practices: Current State and Future Needs. The introduction notes the “dramatic” importance of macromolecular crystallography (MX) in the history of structural biology. However, “Despite its maturity and success in answering biological questions, MX has now arrived at a critical juncture.” More…

"Protein crystallography and drug discovery: recollections of knowledge exchange between academia and industry"

Sir Thomas Blundell

In this review [IUCrJ. (2017), 4, 308-321] on the occasion of the award of the 2017 Ewald Prize by the IUCr, Blundell presents a personal view of the relationship between academia and industry in the development of structure-guided drug discovery.

"Bragg Lecture 2017: The Wondrous World of Perovskites"

Mike Glazer

In the introduction Glazer points out that both William Henry and William Lawrence Bragg were "quite competent artists". Glazer thinks that the combination of being scientists and artists led to the discovery that kicked off x-ray crystallography...more


"A Century of Powder Diffraction: Mini-Symposium" 

powder thumb

David Cox, Tim Fawcett, Pete Chupas, Andrey Yakovenko, Saul Lapidus, Olaf J. Borkiewicz, and Robert B. Von Dreele

Talks were given on November 11, 2016 at the Advanced Photon Source...more


"From Chocolate to Drug Discovery - What Crystallography Has Done for the World." 

Elspeth Garman

Rosalind Franklin Lecture 2016 given at Birkbeck, University of video

"History of NSLS - First Light to Shutdown"

Alison Sundermier and Vivian Stojanoff, 
ACA RefleXions, 2015:2, 47-52

The year was 1982. Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in Upton, New York was celebrating a milestone at its newest facility: the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) had achieved its first light...more


"2014 International Year of Crystallography" 

International Union of Crystallography (IUCr) and the ACA

In celebration of IYCr 2014 the ACA posted several interesting history links and a timeline...more


"The Bragg film archive" 

royal institute

The Royal Institution of Great Britain

The Royal Institution's digitized archive of films relating to the Bragg family, their research, and the world of science at that time....more

"A brief history of macromolecular crystallography, illustrated by a family tree and its Nobel fruits" 

bragg tree

Mariusz Jaskolski, Zbigniew Dauter, Alexander Wlodawer

From the discovery of X-rays to crystallography in the era of genomics - the contributions of 42 Nobel-Prize-winning scientists in physics, chemistry or medicine are listed. The article focuses on 24 crystallographers who made important contributions to our understanding of the structure and function of biological macromolecules and includes a colorful family tree of crystallographers.


"Economic Growth and Scientific Advancement of X-Rays"

S. Narasinga Rao
, Chief Financial Officer, ACA

What has economics to say about X-rays? After all, along with other social sciences, economics has sometimes been regarded with suspicion, even disdain, by the natural sciences...more in PDF

"From Molecules to Medicine: How Structure Helps Cure Disease" 

Greg Petsko
, moderated by Martha Teeter

In this YouTube video Dr. Petsko describes how structural information is used to design drugs against neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's...more

"The Protein Data Bank archive as an open data resource" 

Helen M. Berman, Gerard J. Kleywegt, Haruki Nakamura, John L. Markley, J Comput Aided Mol Des (2014) 28:1009-1014.

In 2016 there were over 125,000 structures in the PDB. Berman et al. describe the evolution of this valuable archive in the 45 years since the PDB was founded...>PDF

"Diamond Light Source (UK)" 


Diamond Light Source

A 40 minute documentary, charting the history of crystallography tells a fascinating story of a scientific technique that is revealing many of life's most beautiful video

"Crystallography one century AD (After Dorothy)" 


Professor Elspeth Garman

2010 Dorothy Hodgkin Memorial Lecture, Somerville College and the Association for Women in Science and video