As a word, crystallography sounds like the study of crystals. And as a branch of science, it did begin by examining the external forms of crystals and minerals. But current work focuses on discerning internal structures — the arrangement and bonding of atoms and molecules — for countless substances. The results inform research in biology, chemistry, geology, physics and other fields.
“Figuring out these tiny structures is typically accomplished by the use of X-rays,” says Brent Nannenga, an associate professor of chemical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. “That’s been the standard approach for more than half a century. However, electrons can also be used to collect data from crystals.”