It cannot have escaped your notice so far that 2014 is a year of centenaries, but you may not realize that this goes beyond the First World War. The United Nations has designated 2014 the International Year of Crystallography to mark the fact that this discipline, the study of atomic and molecular structures, is almost exactly a hundred years old. But 2014 is in some ways an odd year to choose. It is neither the centenary of the discovery by the father-and-son team of William Henry and William Lawrence (known as Lawrence) Bragg that the diffraction pattern produced when a beam of X-rays is shone at a crystal could yield insights into the geometry of that crystal, nor that of the Braggs' Nobel Prize for Physics in 1915.

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