International Year of Crystallography 2014 celebrated by Swiss Post

International Year of Crystallography 2014 celebrated by Swiss Post

Swiss Post has issued two special stamps to celebrate the International Year of Crystallography proclaimed by the United Nations.

"Our understanding of the material nature of our world is grounded, in particular, in our knowledge of crystallography". This statement is made in the United Nations Resolution on the International Year of Crystallography, and the application of this scientific discipline is indeed critical in addressing challenges such as new materials, diseases and environmental problems.

The United Nations devote each year to a special theme. Because of their relevance to society in general, scientific themes are frequently in the spotlight. 2014 will go down in history as the international year of crystallography. What do we mean by crystallography? Crystallography is the science of crystals, their structure and symmetries, formation or creation and their properties and potential applications. It is the only discipline which answers the question: what is the atomic structure of materials? Crystallography looks at the inner symmetries of materials, which are also outwardly visible on the cleavage surface. It is a subject that even fascinated the ancients. The very first crystallographer was the philosopher and naturalist Theophrastos of Eresus (371–287 B.C.) – who, incidentally, was a pupil of Aristotle. Crystals suggest that, in the natural world, the arrangement of atoms is governed by certain structural principles which can be described in mathematical terms.

This assumption was confirmed in 1912 by the German physicist and Nobel Prize laureate Max von Laue and later by father and son William H. and William L. Bragg. With the aid of what was then the relatively new discovery of x-rays, they were able for the first time to determine the positions of the atoms and ions in a crystal of sodium chloride (salt). Four sodium and four chlorine ions are arranged in different patterns in a tiny cube.

These tiny cubes – arranged in a specific order or, to use the technical jargon, "periodically" – produce the crystal. Crystallography is present everywhere in our daily world: in modern drug development, nanotechnology and biotechnology. It form the basis for all new materials, from toothpaste to aircraft components. The 29 Nobel prizes that have been awarded in this sphere are further evidence of the importance of crystallography. The Year of Crystallography is undoubtedly worthy of two commemorative Swiss Post stamps.

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