Like shining lights on a chandelier in a darkened room

November 12, 2005 at 5:42 pm Leave a comment

Did you know that the world’s youngest Nobel Prize winner was born in South Australia?

The work of Lawrence Bragg and his father, William, was recently featured in an exhibition at the SA Museum. The Braggs won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1915, for their discovery of how x-rays could be used to determine the atomic structure of crystals. Lawrence was 25 years old. He later directed the Nobel Prize winning work of Francis Crick and James Watson, on the double helical structure of DNA.

Given the impact of the Braggs’ work on some research projects at the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG), the SA Museum approached the ACPFG for help with the ‘Bragg about Adelaide’ exhibition.

The work of research scientists Dr Maria Hrmova, Dr Jose Varghese and Professor Geoff Fincher was featured in the exhibition. Maria Hrmova said it was “a unique opportunity for the general public to be exposed to a nano-world of biological macromolecules such as proteins and DNA”.

Mark Pharaoh, curator at the SA Museum, describes x-ray crystallography as “like shining lights on a chandelier in a darkened room”. The technique determines a molecule’s three-dimensional (3D) structure by analysing the diffraction pattern of x-rays passing through a crystal of the molecule.

X-ray crystallography is used at the ACPFG to analyse the structure of plant protein molecules. It is hoped knowledge of the molecular workings of cereal plant growth will lead to the development of better crop varieties.

The museum exhibition included a 3D film presentation at the South Australian Partnership for Advanced Computing visualisation suite in the museum, where Maria’s protein structures were seen by around 500 people. The museum estimates around 10,000 people saw the broader exhibition.

“The general public could grasp the essence of structural research quite accurately and expeditiously, as I had the opportunity to witness during the tour throughout the Bragg exhibition,” Maria said.

“Knowledge of the 3D world is having a critical impact in our daily lives, because it allows us to understand what is going on at molecular and atomic levels,” she said.

The ‘Bragg about Adelaide’ exhibition ran from August to October at the SA Museum.

This article appeared in Vector magazine.

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Entry filed under: australia, biotechnology, education, genomics, science, technology.

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