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Scientists' Paper Cited as Milestone in Crystallography

In July 1978, Peter Buseck of Arizona State University, together with two postdoctoral researchers (also then at ASU), published a paper on a new technique for high-resolution imaging of crystal structures using transmission electron microscopes. Recently, the scientific journal Nature has hailed that paper as a milestone in the science of crystallography. At the same time, Nature also cited three other milestone crystallography papers.

by Arizona State University
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A crystalline solid: atomic resolution image of strontium titanate. Brighter atoms are Strontium and darker ones are Titanium.Materialscientist, Wikimedia CommonsThe Nature Milestones series highlights key discoveries that have shaped different scientific fields, and enables the wider recognition of classic findings that are often recognized only by those in the field.

Buseck, an ASU Regents' Professor in both the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, notes today, "We used a relatively common mineral, vesuvianite, as an example because it has a complex crystal structure. The paper showed how quantitative structural information down to almost the atomic level could be obtained by careful electron microscopy and electron diffraction."

Both of the then-postdocs have gone on to distinguished careers, he notes. Michael O'Keefe spent most of his career at the National Center for Electron Microscopy in Berkeley, California. He is a former president of the Microscopy Society of America, and has had many successes in theoretical electron microscopy.

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The other postdoctoral researcher, Sumio Iijima, is the discoverer of carbon nanotubes. Notes Buseck, "He has had a highly distinguished career working on surface microscopy, catalysts and other advanced materials."

Iijima is a past president of the Japanese Microscopy Society, a member of the Japanese Academy and U.S. National Academy of Sciences, among others. His many prizes include the the Benjamin Franklin Medal in physics from The Franklin Institute (2002) and the inaugural Kavli Prize for Nanoscience (Kavli Foundation, Norway, 2008).

"It's an unanticipated but pleasant surprise that this paper would be cited as a milestone contribution 36 years after publication," says Buseck today.

"At the time, my students and postdoctoral associates were using transmission electron microscopy in new ways to study various aspects of minerals. Our papers were appearing regularly in Nature and Science, and the cited paper did not seem more or less special than many of the others. Nonetheless, its selection is gratifying."