Adelaide researchers build on Nobel legacy of X-ray crystallography

By / 5th of September, 2014

RESEARCHERS from the University of Adelaide have developed a new material for examining structures using X-rays without first having to crystallise the substance - continuing more than 100 years of crystallography innovation.

It comes almost a century after the father-son team of Sir William Henry Bragg and Sir William Lawrence Bragg won the Nobel Prize for Physics for their work in X-ray Crystallography.

Published today in the journal Nature Chemistry, Associate Professors Christian Doonan and Christopher Sumby of the School of Chemistry and Physics outline their use of a new nanomaterial to study structure.

"Today, crystallography is an area of science that’s still providing new insights into the structures of materials – our new research is a prime example of that.  It allows us to study chemical reactions that have just happened, or potentially even while they are still happening, which we can’t do using normal crystallography," said Sumby.

The nanomaterial they've developed, called a metal-organic framework, binds the metal complex and its chemical reactants in place.

"We can then examine the structures of the reaction products using X-rays without having to isolate the product or grow crystals," said Doonan.

"We are effectively taking snap-shots of the chemistry, enabling us to study the reaction products in their native state. In this way we can provide structural evidence for the chemical transformations that are taking place."

Key contacts

Chris Sumby Deputy Director and Associate Professor University of Adelaide Centre for Advanced Nanomaterials
61 08 8313 7406
Christian Doonan Director and Associate Professor University of Adelaide Centre for Advanced Nanomaterials
61 08 8313 5770
Robyn Mills Media and Communications Officer University of Adelaide
61 8 8313 6341

The Braggs legacy of excellence:

  • Sir William Henry Bragg started his work on X-rays and crystal structure when he was Elder Professor of Mathematics and Physics at the University of Adelaide. His son Lawrence was a graduate of the University. The new work is being carried out in the Bragg Crystallography Facility at the University’s North Terrace campus.
  • Sir William Henry Bragg and Sir William Lawrence Bragg won the 1915 Nobel Prize in Physics "for their services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays."
  • Sir William Lawrence Bragg remains the youngest recipient of a Nobel Prize in history, being age 25 when it was awarded.
  • Sir William Henry Bragg spent 23 years in Australia from 1885 until 1908 - he said of his time, "he had seen the number of students at the University of Adelaide almost quadruple, and had a full share in the development of its excellent science school."
  • Sir William Henry Bragg served as President of the Royal Society from 1935 - 1940.
  • Sir William Lawrence Bragg played a significant part in the 1953 discovery of the structure of DNA.
  • Bragg's law is the result of their work.
  • The University of Adelaide unveiled a $100 million science and research building in 2013 named The Braggs.
  • The mineral Braggite is named after Sir William Henry Bragg.