Home
Mobile version
spiked plus
About spiked
What is spiked?
Support spiked
spiked shop
Contact us
Advertising
Summer school
Top issues
Abortion
Arab uprisings
British politics
Child abuse panic
Economy
Environment
For Europe, Against the EU
Free speech
Jimmy Savile scandal
Nudge
Obesity
Parents and kids
Population
USA
View all issues...
special feature
The Counter-Leveson Inquiry
other sections
 Letters
 Review of Books
 Monthly archive
selected authors
Duleep Allirajah
Daniel Ben-Ami
Tim Black
Jennie Bristow
Sean Collins
Dr Michael Fitzpatrick
Frank Furedi
Helene Guldberg
Patrick Hayes
Mick Hume
Rob Lyons
Brendan O’Neill
Nathalie Rothschild
James Woudhuysen
more authors...
RSS feed
survey

abc def ghi jkl mno pqrs tuv wxyz index
Survey home
Introduction
Survey responses
RSS feed
Anjana Ahuja
Julian Baggini
Philip Ball
Marlene Oscar Berman
Gustav VR Born
K Eric Drexler
Marcus Du Sautoy
Edmond H Fischer
John Hall
Tim Hunt
Wolfgang Ketterle
Leon Lederman
Matt Ridley
Raymond Tallis
Frank Wilczek
Lewis Wolpert
Dr Philip Ball
consultant editor at Nature and science writer


I may be wrong, but my suspicion is that you may not hear from a great many chemists - so maybe I could put in a word for them. Arguably, the most useful innovations in chemistry are methods of chemical analysis. I know that this sounds almost irredeemably dull, but I can’t help feeling that that is the way with truly useful innovations - unlike ‘great discoveries’, they tend to be things that become a part and parcel of daily life.

I am thinking in particular of crystallography, pioneered at the start of the twentieth century in X-rays by von Laue and the Braggs and now also using other probes such as electrons and neutrons. These techniques provide the most detailed atomic-scale pictures of what molecules and materials look like, and are vital for understanding the structure and thus the mode of function of biomolecules. X-ray crystallography was of course central to the elucidation of the structure and function of DNA. But there is also a raft of other analytical tools for probing molecular structure, especially nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and optical, electron and scanning-probe microscopies. Since the essence of the molecular sciences is understanding the shape, structure, constitution, location and dynamics of molecules, analytical tools of this kind are quite simply what makes the discipline possible as a modern science.