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emeritus professor of chemical crystallography at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology


The most important innovation in my field was the discovery by Max von Laue in 1912 that X-rays are diffracted by crystals, and the application of this to determine the atomic arrangement within crystals, first by the Braggs, William Henry and William Lawrence, father and son, and then by a succession of brilliant followers.

During the first half of the twentieth century, the method was applied mainly to inorganic compounds, simple salts and minerals; in the second half it was extended to more and more complex organic compounds and then to biological materials, culminating in the structure analysis of crystalline viruses and ribosomes. With the development of automated diffractometers, high-energy radiation sources, and highly efficient computer programs, there seems to be no limit to the complexity of the structures that can be determined by this method.  Since its beginnings, this development has been deservedly marked by the award of a number of Nobel prizes, and we have not yet seen the end.