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June 4, 2012, 3:23 pm

Youngest molecular scientist?

Maybe you dream of being an artist, or maybe you dream of being a scientist?  So why not put your skills to the test... your puzzle-solving skills that is!

Su Doko wizard Linus Hovmoller Zou, only 11 years old, did just that, and helped out when his father got stuck on solving a crystal lattice structure puzzle.

You have guessed the rest... and as a reward for his insight, Linus has his name on the Royal Society scientific paper that his father published to tell everyone else in the world of science!

What was discovered?

Using his spatial skills, Linus helped to solve the atomic structure of crystals known as approximants, that his father had been working on for eight years.


This is a 10 million dollar question!  How can a young school boy solve a puzzle that an experienced scientist had been struggling with for years?  It illustrates the complexity of some of nature's puzzles, and the value of fresh approaches to old problems.

But even Linus would not have any problem to solve if there was no data to look at.  How do we look at atomic structures?  X-ray diffraction is the main technique used - firing X-rays at a crystal and looking carefully at the pattern of spots formed as the beam of light is scattered due to the presence of atoms in particular positions in the crystal. This is recorded as a photograph.

The technique is a bit more complicated than it sounds, as the angles and intensities of the spots produced show a 3-D picture of the density of electrons inside the crystal... which can then be used to estimate the position of atoms, bonds and how ordered the crystal is. That's the work of a crystallographer.

Why is it important?

Understanding the structure of crystals can tell us about how matter is organized - and can win a Nobel Prize!  

X-ray crystallography was used to collect data for determining the structure of one of the most famous molecules of all time... can you guess which molecule?  Look here

Good luck Linus, in whatever you do! Thanks for showing us the importance of all working together!


See also

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The 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry explained easy in this video from MoleCluesTV!
A (not so serious) introduction to an X-ray diffractometer
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How can we determine the structure of large molecules? Some young scientists show the instrument they use to do X-ray crystallography, in a very relaxed way...Article by Anna Frick,...
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