Sunday, February 1, 2015

Crystallography: an international year for science outreach


This is  a crystal structure called MnNb10 which was determined using X-ray crystallography by William Casey, professor of chemistry at UC Davis, and his postdoctoral researcher Jungho Son. The red balls represent oxygen atoms, the yellow represent manganese atoms and the gray represent niobium atoms. Courtesy diagram

From page A12 | September 07, 2014 |

It’s the science behind flat-screen televisions, HIV treatments and chocolate manufacturing. Yet few nonscientists are familiar with crystallography.

That’s the problem the International Union of Crystallography wants to address with the International Year of Crystallography, which commemorates X-ray crystallography’s 100-year anniversary.

X-ray crystallography is a technique that scientists from all disciplines use to find the structure of molecules and compounds.

“If you can get (a chemical compound) into the solid state, you can usually grow a crystal of it,” said Marilyn Olmstead, professor of chemistry at UC Davis. “Once we have the crystal, we can use the technique of X-ray crystallography to determine the exact structure.”

In X-ray crystallography, a small sample of a crystal is placed in an instrument where it is bombarded with X-rays. The X-rays bounce off the electrons surrounding the atoms in the sample, overlapping and interfering with each other.

The pattern of X-rays bouncing off the sample is collected as image data. Then a computer digests the data to find the sample’s structure: the arrangement and types of atoms in the crystal’s molecules.

“Essentially, what we’re doing is collecting this image data  and using that to work backwards to figure out what comprised the (molecule),” Olmstead said. “Different atoms have different responses to X-ray radiation.”

Olmstead offered an analogy: X-ray crystallography is like listening to an orchestra play.

“You have all these different instruments, and the different sounds that the different instruments make are waves — sound waves,” Olmstead said. “Your ear picks up the combination of all these (waves), but your ear and your brain are smart enough to actually work backward and figure out which instrument made which sound.

“It’s the same with crystals,” Olmstead said. “Different atoms have a different response to X-ray radiation,” like the different sounds instruments make. Computers work backwards to identify each atom based on its response to X-ray radiation, just like the human brain works backward to identify an instrument from the sounds it makes.

But why is crystallography important?

“One-eighth of all the Nobel Prizes in chemistry and physics have been awarded in crystallography,” said Martha Teeter, president of the American Crystallographic Association and a Davis resident. “It’s got enormous impact on society.”

Crystallography is behind a wide range of technological and medical advancements, with the potential for many more.

“Every single formula of every drug that’s ever been synthesized, we know the arrangement of atoms from the crystal structure,” Teeter said.

For example, Dorothy Hodgkin and her team found the structure of insulin in 1969 using X-ray crystallography. Today, these advancements allow insulin to be synthesized for the world’s 230 million diabetics, according to the International Year of Crystallography website.

DNA’s famous double helix shape also was found through X-ray diffraction, according to the International Union of Crystallography.

And in the 1960s, Hakon Hope, professor emeritus at UCD, and his team made significant advances in the science of crystallography at UCD, Olmstead said. Hope pioneered a technique for using X-ray crystallography with proteins that is now used all over the world, according to Teeter.

Crystallography research continues to be important at UCD today.

William Casey, a professor of chemistry, uses crystallography to find substances that could become the next generation of semiconductors, which are important for electronics. Louise Berben, a professor of chemistry, and her team use crystallography to hunt for catalysts that might let future scientists make fuel out of carbon dioxide and water.

Other crystallography-related projects at UCD include research on antibiotics, energy and cancer therapeutics. Even the UCD entomology department sometimes uses X-ray crystallography to find the structure of insect pheromones, Olmstead said.

UCD’s crystallography facilities are large.

“We have three instruments running most of the time,” said James Fettinger, director of the X-ray crystallographic laboratory at UCD. The laboratory analyzes close to 900 samples a year, a comparatively high number of samples, Fettinger said.

Olmstead and Fettinger want to share crystallography’s importance with the community of Davis. According to Teeter, that’s the point of the International Year.

“The International Year is to bring the awareness of crystallography to the general public,” she said. “A good way to do that is by bringing it to young scientists and families, so that’s why we’ve concentrated on schools. There are also lectures and activities at the university level.”

Olmstead and Fettinger are working on ideas for crystallography outreach for Davisites of all ages. In the past, Fettinger said, he’s made presentations at Da Vinci High School.

“(Students) like the idea of what you’re doing, but crystallography is hard to understand,” Fettinger said.

Olmstead sees crystallography as a way to impart a basic understanding of chemistry to students.

“Ultimately, you want them to have some sort of mental image of what a molecule is,” she said.

Teeter hopes to get Davis schools involved in the International Year’s crystal-growing contest for elementary and high school students.

“(The contest) ties in to the next generation of science standards, which are very experience-oriented,” Teeter said.

Teeter sees the technique of crystallography as more important now than ever.

“Our young scientists are our future of science,” she said. “We would like to use crystallography to excite young people about science. ….We have really, really hard problems today, and in order to solve them we need a lot of people trained (in science).”






Well-loved library has services for all ages

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1 | Gallery

The end of an era for The Enterprise, as pressroom closes

By Kimberly Yarris | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Jewish fraternity vandalism classified a hate crime

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1

Man arrested after body parts found in suitcase

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Islamists post beheading video

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

More than a foot of snow possible for Midwest, Northeast

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

UCD Med Center patient tested negative for Ebola

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Kudos to the Thomsons

By Sue Cockrell | From Page: A3

Arboretum ‘I do’

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

The story of Mark and Maria

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

Summer lovin’

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

Stories come alive at the library

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8

Stepping Stones supports grieving youths

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9Comments are off for this post

Vote for your favorites in Readers’ Choice poll

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

Japanese students seek Davis host families

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

And bingo was the game-o

By Tate Perez | From Page: A9

Lee will speak Wednesday about city issues

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

Training starts Tuesday for Jepson Prairie Preserve tour guides

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9 | Gallery

Lecture looks at women in Egypt

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9

Tuleyome Tales: Searching for the elusive McNab cypress

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11 | Gallery

Questions and answers about breast cancer set

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

Davis Arts Center welcomes students’ work

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11



Help a veteran feel loved

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: A10

Three old ideas going, going, gone

By Marion Franck | From Page: A10

How much drinking is too much?

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

They’re experienced and honest

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

Toy drive was a big success

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

One-way street solves dilemma

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

Council, follow your own policies

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

Ensure that you’re protected against measles

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12

Act would let patients control their own fates

By Our View | From Page: A12

Tom Meyer cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A12

Wi-Fi in our schools could result in health impacts

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A13

Life goes on in Rutilio Grande, despite country’s gang violence

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A13 | Gallery



Depth charge: DHS girls defeat Elk Grove

By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Blue Devil boys lose on Herd’s buzzer-beating trey

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

UCD women survive against winless UCSB

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

Foursome will represent Davis at national soccer tournament

By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Sharks blank Blackhawks

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

UCD roundup: Aggies make a racket but fall to Sac State, Pacific

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Kings get past Pacers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2







Putah Creek Winery launches ‘Give Back Tuesday’

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12

Doby Fleeman: Toward a more perfect Davis

By Doby Fleeman | From Page: A12

Ullrich Delevati, CPAs, adds senior accountant

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12

And the survey says: Success for Davis Chamber

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A12

Seminar will cover business challenges

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A13

Japanese fondue dips into Davis scene

By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A13 | Gallery

Novozymes, Cargill continue bio-acrylic acid partnership as BASF exits

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A13





Comics: Sunday, February 1, 2015

By Creator | From Page: B8