Chapter 1.2 Historical background

Crystallography of biological macromolecules

Second Online Edition (2012)

Part 1. Introduction

  1. M. G. Rossmann

Published Online: 14 APR 2012

DOI: 10.1107/97809553602060000805

International Tables for Crystallography

International Tables for Crystallography

How to Cite

Rossmann, M. G. 2012. Historical background. International Tables for Crystallography. F:1:1.2:5–12.

Author Information

  1. Department of Biological Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907–1392, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 14 APR 2012


X-ray crystallography was initiated in 1912 by Max von Laue and Peter Ewald. The molecular size and complexity of structures solved by X-ray crystallography gradually increased to include penicillin (Crowfoot, 1948) and vitamin B12 (Hodgkin, 1957). Myoglobin and haemoglobin were the first protein structures to be determined in 1957 and 1959 by Kendrew and Perutz, respectively, using the isomorphous replacement method. The 2 Å resolution structure of myoglobin (Kendrew, 1959) confirmed the right-handed α-helix predicted by Pauling. Subsequently other techniques were added for the structure determination of proteins, including the use of molecular replacement and anomalous dispersion. The increasing power of computers, computer graphics for automation of the ‘Richards Box’ model building system and X-ray production machines have transformed protein crystallography into a vital area of science and a powerful tool for the pharmaceutical industry.


  • early structure determinations