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CNR: Alamanacco della Scienza

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N. 2 - 29 gen 2014
ISSN 2037-4801

International info   a cura di Cecilia Migali

Cultura

2014: International year of crystallography

Eight hundred people had come to Unesco to hear her message and that of the 30 or so other speakers taking the floor for the official launch of the International Year of Crystallography. The event is hosted by Unesco, which is leading the Year on behalf of the United Nations, in collaboration with the International Union of Crystallography (Iucr). In Italy, the Italian Crystallographic Association, under patronage of Cnr, is organizing several dissemination activities, such as the exhibition 'Cristalli!', on view in Padua until February 28. Like most basic sciences, crystallography tends to be much less known to the general public than its applications in industries as diverse as agrifood, pharmaceuticals, aeronautics, new materials and mining.

“Few people know that many Nobel Prizes in Physics and Chemistry are really about Crystallography”, the Director-General of Unesco, Irina Bokova, remarked

In 2012, for example, Professor Brian Kobilka received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry “for his studies of G-protein-coupled receptors”. He spoke of his research at the launch, explaining that each cell has a small receiver known as a receptor which is able to receive hormones. In the 1980s, he identified the gene that regulates the formation of the receptor for adrenalin. It was later discovered that there is an entire family of receptors that look and act in similar ways, known as G-protein-coupled receptors. About half of all medications used today make use of this kind of receptor.

“Development needs innovation and, in most cases, scientific innovation needs crystallography”, the Director-General went on to say… 'We need governments to recognize the power of crystallography, to craft sharper policies and to invest in research and networks − especially in developing countries. This effort concerns everyone, including the private sector. We must strengthen international cooperation, build regional coalitions for innovation… We need to share technologies and expertise, in order to strengthen capacities in developing countries…”

At present, crystallographers are active in only about 80 countries. Claude Lecomte, Vice-President of the Iucr, told the auditorium about an Iucr initiative to develop crystallography in Africa. The programme trains teaching staff and PhD students in crystallography. It also provides participating countries with diffractometers, the basic equipment for performing crystallography, graciously supplied by Bruker France. Claude Lecomte ran a course at the University of Dschang in Cameroon, in 2012. The next countries to benefit from the programme will be Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon and Senegal.

Over the coming year, another project will be mounted to build capacity in crystallography not only in Africa but also in Asia and Latin America as well. Unesco and the International Union of Crystallography will be also running open laboratories in more than a dozen developing countries throughout 2014, in partnership with private manufacturers of diffractometers. These Open Labs will demonstrate how a diffractometer works to university students and their professors in Algeria, Argentina, China, the Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Pakistan, Uruguay and Vietnam. In Morocco, the laboratory will even take to the road.

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