Centenary Sparkle

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The golden years of crystallographers is being celebrated with their Nobel Peace prize displayed alongside their laboratory equipment to note 100 years of the study of crystals. There is an interesting after life to the initial successes of these scientists. William Bragg was involved War duties when awarded his prize in 1915 and so postponed his lectures until 1922.

Unravelling the lives of other famous scientists reveal further struggles. Dorothy Hodgkin’s laboratory is described as a joyous and productive place, however the Cold War stopped her touring to many overseas academic institutions to lecture on Insulin until she was in her eighties.


The inspiration to devote a life to marking the position of atoms in crystalline structure shines through brilliantly in the display cabinets. In addition to the benefits offered to mankind, the unstoppable beauty of these natural substances is obvious.  Gold glistens in the Pyrites from Spain and silver shimmers through the opaque Baryte from Wensleydale, taking the attention immediately.

The exhibition shows methodically how equipment changes during the life of a scientist, hence changing their working methods. The manual goniometer, to physically measure angles between crystals, is gradually replaced by the electron microscope. The flow of electrons create map-like images that inspires Art through its geometry. Man-made images emulating the electron micrograph are embroidered onto tablecloths shown both in the exhibition and at the Festival of Britain in 1951.

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The scientist’s endeavour offers different opportunities to interpret what we see in front of us. Whilst a model of Watson and Crick’s DNA structure is on show, reference is made to how in the middle ages crystals were seen as having occult properties. With technology speeding up the sequencing technique is completed in days as opposed to months. Today it is the mind of the scientist and not crystal-gazing that leads the way, making everyone’s golden years stretch that little bit further.

Crystals exhibition is on at History of Science Museum Oxford until March 30th.

Another high achieving woman is referenced here and more tales about Golden years from other writers are  here


Read about how a high achieving woman revived a physic garden here

12 thoughts on “Centenary Sparkle

  1. Pingback: Weekly Writing Challenge – Golden Years | Joe's Musings

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  3. It is quite something to track the changes in the thought and what is defined as science once is now debunked. Makes you wonder – if the mathematical principles that defined the engineering and planning for producing electricity we’re proved to be false – would the lights go out?


    • Such an inspired thought. Thanks for great comment. This is a good point you raise. The ‘old fashioned’ measuring techniques too seem out of date in just a few decades. Who knows what is on the horizon (all good I hope!!!). Hope you are enjoying lovely weekend Jenni! I am catching up with some more terrific book reviews on your site. It’s great to get a taste of a novel before you dive in!


  4. For some reason I didn’t get your post on my reader, so I came looking for you, and I’m so glad I did! I feel as though I were right there next to you in awe at the beauty of crystals… Have a great weekend my friend!


    • Hey! Glad the post added a bit of sparkle. Hooray for crystals ;-D have a brilliant weekend Gisela thanks for dropping by. Looking forward to reading more of your beautiful poetry.


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