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J D Bernal's x-ray diffraction camera, United Kingdom, 1928

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John Desmond Bernal (1901-71), an Irish physicist, used this X-ray diffraction camera at the Royal Institution in London. When X-rays are passed through crystals they scatter to create a pattern that can be used to determine the structures of molecules. Known today as X-ray crystallography, it was a crucial technique used to understand the structure of penicillin, DNA and insulin. Bernal was also interested in the social function of science and wrote widely on the history of science.

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Glossary: x-ray crystallography

The method of using X-rays to discover the molecular structure of crystals. It relies on X-ray diffraction, which is the information gained by studying the pattern produced by the scattering of an X-ray beam as it hits the atomic structure of a crystal.

Glossary: x-ray diffraction camera

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