Festival of Crystallography at Wellcome

Last Thursday a group of us went to see the Wellcome Collection (iat 183 Euston Road, built in 1932). It’s literally across the road from Euston Station. We were all crystallographers and had worked with the great women and men crystallographers of the 20th Century. The particular reason is that the insititute is housing an exhibition of a remarkable collaboration between crystallographers and the Festival of Britain in 1951.
I remember being taken to the Festival and being wowed by it – it was a vision of the future and how science and technology could change the world. I don’t remember all the parts and I don’t think I remember the crystallography. The crystallographic community, spurred by Helen Megaw at Cambridge, donated some of their output to be used as visual displays (“patterns”) and this is now exhibited as From Atoms to Patterns. There were no computer displays in crystallography at that time, so they couldn’t use the graphics that we have now. Instead they created displays in fabrics and synthetic materials and glass. I can’t reproduce them here (copyright) but please click through to see what I’m talking about. Better still, if you are in London and have half an hour before catching a train at Euston drop in. It’s free. And the permanent exhibition from Henry Wellcome is also most interesting.
Crystallography is very beautiful. That’s why I got into it as a teenager – I got excited by polyhedra and my chemistry teacher gave me Phillips’ book on crystallography to read. I made physical models of all 32 point groups. Perhaps there was a subliminal echo of the festival in that activity.
Several of the patterns had been provided by Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin – all of us had worked with Dorothy – some for many years. She’d been asked for patterns and the question of copyright came up. Dorothy wrote:
“I feel rather doubtful whether I own any copyright of a pattern perpetuated by nature”.

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One Response to Festival of Crystallography at Wellcome

  1. The Wellcome Trust is such a fantastic place. I had a chance to visit in November ’06 by virtue of e-acquaintance with a librarian there, and I can’t say enough about how kind and accommodating they were. Yes, yes, yes, anyone who is there should drop by! It’s walking distance from the British Library.

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