King's College London
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DNA: the King's story

X-ray diffraction

X-ray from 1898X-ray from 1898The discovery of x-rays by Wilhelm Konrad Von Roentgen in 1895 was arguably the first key step in the list of discoveries and innovations that led to the cracking of the code.

Without x-rays the key images of DNA could not have been taken.

The shape of crystals in one form or another has been known since early times. Observation over a number of centuries had also confirmed the constancy of their shape.

An understanding of their underlying structure, however, had to wait until the late eighteenth century when John Dalton put forward the idea that atoms of different elements might combine together in various proportions to make compound atoms or molecules as we call them today.

The various optical properties of crystals were also of interest and many observations were made with visible light about the ways in which rays of light of various colours could be absorbed, reflected and refracted in their passage through crystals.

When Max von Laue and Paul Peter Ewald deduced in 1912 that x-rays must be capable of being diffracted, like light, it was realised that they might be used to study the internal structure of crystals.

Von Laue was rewarded with the Nobel Prize in Physics for this work in 1914.

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