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Diamond Celebrates a Glittering Year of Crystallography

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The UK's national synchrotron science facility, Diamond Light Source, brought to a close a year of activity showcasing 100 years of crystallography.

Thousands of scientists from across the UK carry out crystallography experiments at Diamond each year. The technique allows them to work out how the world around us looks at the atomic level and leads to new approaches to drug and vaccine design, energy storage, and solutions to industrial problems in areas such as catalysis, corrosion and nuclear waste containment.

From film premieres, to family workshops, crystal displays, open days, crystal growing competitions in schools, and photography exhibitions, 2014 has been packed full of events and activities which celebrated UNESCO's International Year of Crystallography and helped to promote public understanding of this critical scientific field.

From the development of antibiotics to the uncovering of the double helix in DNA, crystallography has been fundamental to countless discoveries; and the technique continues to be used in thousands of research experiments carried out at Diamond every year.

Diamond produces a light 10 billion times brighter than the sun, which is used for cutting-edge research by scientists from universities, charities and industry. Crystallography is a key scientific technique which produces unique diffraction patterns made when intense X-rays pass through a crystallized sample to determine its atomic structure.

While the celebrations took place throughout 2014, crystallography continued to foster major scientific breakthroughs. This year saw significant advances in research regarding inherited learning disabilities, the Hepatitis A virus, Alzheimer's and novel treatments for common diseases.

2014 - A year in the life of crystallography

• February - An international team of scientists successfully developed a novel compound which could prevent a range of viruses from infecting humans. Researchers from Oxford, Beijing, Leeds and Innsbruck collaborated on the new virus inhibitor, which could support the creation of drugs to treat hand, foot and mouth disease, polio and the common cold.

• March - Using crystallography and the advanced imaging techniques at Diamond and other light sources in Switzerland and the US, scientists uncovered another piece in the Alzheimer's puzzle. They found evidence that biological material contributing to lesions in the brain, characteristic in Alzheimer's patients, may also cause the build-up of brain-cell-damaging toxic iron.

• July - Scientists made a discovery that could pave the way for more effective, targeted drugs to treat inherited learning disabilities. Heptares, the leading structure-lead drug design company, mapped the structure of a protein linked to the genetic disorder, Fragile X Syndrome - a major cause of inherited learning disabilities. These findings could support future treatments

• October - In an unprecedented step forward, a team of scientists from Beijing and Oxford mapped the exact construction of Hepatitis A, down to the individual atoms. This new finding is a considerable advance for research into Hep A, one of the most resilient and difficult to control viruses and more broadly for our understanding of the virus world.

• December - UK scientists discovered a technique with the potential to dramatically reduce the amount of energy used in the refinement of crude oil. The existing industrial process uses huge amounts of energy to separate and purify these gases, and the new technique has the potential to revolutionize the oil industry by significantly reducing carbon emissions and making the process more environmentally friendly.

Earlier in the year, Diamond worked with the Royal Institution to produce a film celebrating the work of pioneering father and son scientists, William and Lawrence Bragg who discovered Bragg's Law of X-ray diffraction, which allows scientists to determine atomic structure using crystallography. The documentary features Nobel Prize winning scientists and includes exclusive interviews and unique glimpses into rarely seen historical collections. To view the film, click here: http://www.diamond.ac.uk/Home.html.

Celebratory events also included both a lecture by Elspeth Garman, Professor of Molecular Biophysics at Oxford University - 'How Crystallography changed the world', and 'Illuminating Atoms', a photography exhibition by Max Alexander portraying the inspirational work of present day crystallographers - both events held at the Royal Albert Hall.

Professor Andrew Harrison, CEO of Diamond Light Source, comments: "We have embraced every opportunity in 2014 to tell people about the pioneering science that crystallography supports. Crystallography revolutionized science when it was discovered and 100 years later, it continues to underpin some of the most significant advances that scientists are making in every field."

Diamond Light Source worked alongside a number of partners throughout the International Year of Crystallography, including STFC (Science & Technology Facilities Council), Oxfordshire Science Festival, the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford's Museum of Natural History, the British Crystallography Association (BCA), and the Royal Albert Hall.