Crystallography - World of Wonders


an educational workshop for high school teachers, July 2010, Chicago, IL


An educational outreach workshop was held as part of the 2010 ACA meeting in Chicago. This workshop was geared towards school teachers, and carried Illinois continuing education certification. Sponsorship by the ACA, the USNCCr and a supplement from the NSF allowed the teachers to attend the workshop at no charge. Unfortunately, due to inclement weather that caused severe flooding, many of the 29 registered attendees could not make it to the workshop.


The workshop combined presentations from a number of instructors with hands-on exercises that could be taken back to the classroom. As an intriguing start to the day, Bruce Knoll (Bruker) demonstrated that with modern instrumentation, users need very little training to mount a crystal and start collection of a dataset.  By lunchtime, the diffractometer had finished collecting data on aspirin, and the automated software had gone through all steps of structure solution without requiring user input. While the data were being collected, Claudia Rawn (Oak Ridge National Lab/UT Knoxville) took the teachers on a Materials Discovery Tour, introducing them to basic concepts of bonding, structure, and structure-property relationships. Her powerpoint presentation was balanced with a number of hands-on exercises, including stacking of closed-packed layers of spheres, identifying several metal, ceramic and polymer spheres based on known properties like density, and polymer chain entanglement. A highlight of her session was the construction of basic crystal structures (face-centered cubic material and rocksalt) from legos, which was so popular that all other presenters and even the AV staff participated!


These activities were followed up by Cora Lind's (Univ. of Toledo) introduction to diffraction basics, which exposed the teachers to waves and slit experiments and drew analogies to diffraction experiments. With the aid of diffraction grating slides and lasers, the concepts of repeat distance and atom identity determining spot location and spot intensity were demonstrated.


After lunch, Katherine Kantardjieff (CSU Pomona) introduced remotely enabled instrumentation and how it can be used to expose a wider audience to crystallographic experiments. This was followed by a highly entertaining presentation by Jim Kaduk (IIT), who showed that powder diffraction can provide interesting information about everyday materials like peanut butter, oreos and many other frequently encountered compounds. The last two sessions by Colin Groom (CCDC) and David Goodsell (Scripps Research Institute, representing the RCSB PDB) gave the workshop participants a chance to learn about crystallographic databases, and to try them out hands-on.


A few of the teachers stayed for Venki Ramakrishnan's opening lecture to the ACA meeting, and were thrilled to have a chance to meet him and get his autograph.


The workshop feedback from the participants was very positive, encouraging us to

run similar workshops in the future. Teacher attitudes changed from apprehension in the morning to excitement after the first few hands-on exercises, and by the end of the day, several participants were making plans for how to use what they learned in their own classrooms! Several of them also took additional hands-on kits to share with their colleagues.


workshop organized by Cora Lind (Univ. Toledo) and Claudia Rawn (ORNL, UT Knoxville)

Speakers' notes:

Claudia Rawn - Materials Discovery Camp

Cora Lind - Diffraction Basics

Jim Kaduk - Understanding Everyday Materials using X-ray Powder Diffraction

Colin Groom - Using the Cambridge Structure Database

David Goodsell - Getting the Most out of the Protein Databank