Passing the Torch

One of the pleasures of growing older and ‘respectable’ in the scientific community is the opportunity of discussing the history of our subjects with the younger generations.  As an enthusiastic crystallographer  and scientist, I do like very much to pass the torch to the upcoming generations of fresh  students to give them a sense of perspective of the scientific research that is now encompassed within the field of crystallography: how did the field started? where  are we are now?; where do we come from? who were the most prominent figures?; and what can we expect in the future?. But I like to do this not in a ‘straight line’ but rather showing the ‘pitfalls’, ‘wrong turns’ and ‘serendipitous moments’ in the erratic history of science. I also like to connect the scientific concepts with artistic metaphors, since to me those two facets of the human mind are related, sometimes in unexpected ways.  Crystallography certainly is a unique science in that regard because of the beauty of crystals, which has been appreciated since antiquity, and because of the richness and elegance of the biological forms that are being now unveiled.  HWC-Lecture-1

Thanks to my colleague from the Institute of Tuberculosis Research, Dr. Farah Movahed and her colleague Dr. Joydeep Mitra from the Harold Washington College in downtown Chicago, I had the opportunity to do this by presenting a couple lectures on the basic concepts of crystallography and its application to Structure-Based Drug Design. I was totally impressed by the group of students and attendees that were extremely attentive to my presentation even though occasionally I might have wondered too far ‘off track’. The lectures were presented in preparation for a fieAPS-HWC-1ld visit to the Advanced Photon Source (APS) in the  southwest suburbs of Chicago.  To commemorate these events, I have written this brief note that I would like to illustrate with a few related images, courtesy of my hosts and also of the APS communication office (Rick Fenner). I do hope that you -whoever you are- have the opportunity to visit the APS and have a glimpse of the amazing scientific adventures that go on hourly and daily in such a place. It is a wonderful and unique resource dedicated to hard work and discovery. What is being being worked on now -in whatever field related to X-rays and structural research- may change our lives tomorrow.

I would like to finish this brief posting with a little known quotation from Louis Pasteur, regarding the role of laboratories in facilitating human understanding and civic discourse:

 “I beseech you to take interest in these sacred domains so expressively called laboratories. Ask that there be more and they be adorned for these are the temples of the future, wealth and well-being. It is here that humanity will grow, strengthen and improve. Here, humanity will learn to read progress and individual harmony in the works of nature, while humanity’s own works are all too often those of barbarism, fanaticism and destruction.”

(Louis Pasteur (1822-1895). Le budget de la science. La Revue de cours sAPS-aerial-viewcientifiques (1869). pgs. 137-139.

For the casual visitor to this website site, who may never have the opportunity to visit the APS, I am appending an aerial view of the site (courtesy of Rick Fenner, Communications office of the APS at

I would finally add a link and an image of a brief report that has appeared in the site of Argonne National Laboratory recently (May, 19.2106),
briefly mentioning the visit ( I think that the image where my index finger is pointing to the ‘invisible crystal’ at the tip of the ‘mounting pin’ where the tiny crystal (about 0.1-0.2 mm or about 100th of an inch) is says it all! (see below left).

Pointing to the 'invisible crystal' at the tip of the mounting pin

Pointing to the ‘invisible crystal’ at the tip of the mounting pin

Quite amazing that from such a tiny speck of matter one can extract the atomic structure of a protein, a virus or any similar structural wonder at the atomic level. Synchrotrons are amazing resources to peek into the atomic structure of our surrounding world.