Skip to main content


X-Ray Diffraction: Still Beautiful After All These Years

Posted on by Dr. Francis Collins

Image of a grey circle with a white line passing through the center.
X-Ray diffraction image created from a crystal of Bacteriophage HK97.
Source: John Johnson, The Scripps Research Institute

This year marks the 100th anniversary of X-ray diffraction technology. Developed in 1912, this important tool enables researchers to figure out the 3-D structure of a molecule by beaming X-rays, often through its crystallized form. More than 85% of the protein structures we know today have been determined via this method.

For more information about x-ray diffraction, I recommend Structural Biology Fact Sheet and The Structures of Life: X-ray Crystallography.

Image of a circle with purple striations in an X pattern.

Here you see the X-ray diffraction image that James Watson and Francis Crick used to decipher the double helix structure of DNA in 1953.

And now for a trivia question! As some of you may know, one of my hobbies is playing the guitar—a guitar that happens to have a DNA double helix inlaid on its fretboard. All special guitars should have a name.  B.B. King has Lucille. Eric Clapton had Blackie. After which famous scientist, responsible for the image used by Watson and Crick, is my guitar named?

A: ɹosɐlıup Ⅎɹɐuʞlıu