Guest Blogger Dr. Susan K. Fetics is the International Vice President, Iota Nu Chapter of Graduate Women in Science.
She is a post-doctoral fellow in the Laboratoire d’Enzymologie et Biochimie Structurales, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Gif-sur-Yvette, France.
The United Nations and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has declared 2014 the International Year of Crystallography. As a scientist, more specifically, a protein crystallographer, this is an exciting time. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of X-ray diffraction of crystals. And interestingly, 25 Nobel Prizes in the past 100 years have been awarded for research involving X-ray crystallography. The opening ceremony took place on January 20 & 21 at the UNESCO building in Paris, in the 7th Arrondissement under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. There were many inspiring talks: we heard welcoming remarks from Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO and Gautam R. Desiraju, the President of the International Union of Crystallography. Many exciting research presentations were also given, namely: Prof Brian Kobika from Stanford University USA, 2012 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, who discussed his work on G-protein coupled receptors, which is the largest class of proteins used as pharmaceutical targets; Prof David Bish from Indiana University USA, presented the first X-ray diffraction data results from another planet, Mars. He explained that the soil on Mars is similar to the soil found on the dunes of Mauna Loa, Hawaii, USA. As a scientist starting her career in crystallography, it was comforting to hear that powerful results take decades of hard work with a singular focus on one research project. As a woman in science, it was uplifting to hear that crystallography has historically been an area where women, such as Dorothy Hodgkin, Kathleen Lonsdale and Rosalind Franklin, have made a significant impact – this is rare for a scientific field. Juliette Pardon from the Cambridge Crystallography Data Center, England, discussed how her organization is using X-ray crystallography to explore the natural ores and minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Africa, in collaboration with professors and graduate students at the University of Kinshasa, DRC. These crystals are used in our everyday electronics. The use of these minerals has raised ethical and environmental concerns for the DRC.
From attending the opening ceremony, one can understand that crystallography is a field of science which reaches across many boundaries such as gender, politics, scientific disciplines, countries, continents, and now planets. Crystallography is used to make cement, it is found in lithium ion batteries, it is the reason windows on airplanes are circular and it aids in pharmaceutical drug design. Despite the fact that the technique is 100 years old, crystallography remains at the cutting edge of science.
Many events are occurring this year all over the world to celebrate crystallography. For example, on January 17 & 18 at the School of Medicine in Paris, the “Festival de la Cristallographie” allowed crystallographers to explain the concepts and applications of crystallography to children and adults of the general public. Throughout the year, many countries, such as France, Greece, Tunisia and USA, have organized national crystal growth competitions for high school students. Workshops, exhibitions and lectures for the public are taking place all over the globe. For more information on events near you, you can visit www.iycr2014.org