This past week I taught my condensed matter class about crystal structures and their determination by X-rays. This can be a little dry and old. Here, are few things I do to try and make things more interesting and relevant. I emphasise that many of these developments go beyond what was known or anticipated when Ashcroft and Mermin was written. Furthermore, significant challenges remain.
Discuss whether the first X-ray crystallography experiment the most important experiment in condensed matter, ever?
Take crystal structure "ball and stick" models to the lectures.
Give a whole lecture on quasi-crystals.
Use the bravais program in Solid State Simulations to illustrate basic ideas. For example, the equivalence of each reciprocal lattice vector to an X-ray diffraction peak, to a family of lattice planes in real space, and to a Miller indice.
Show a crystal structure for a high-Tc cuprate superconductor and an organic charge transfer salt. Emphasize the large number of atoms per unit cell and how small changes in distances can totally change the ground state (e.g. superconductor to Mott insulator). Furthermore, these small changes may be currently beyond experimental resolution. This is very relevant to my research and that of Ben Powell.
Very briefly mention the Protein Data Bank, and its exponential growth over the past few decades. It now contains more than 100,000 bio-molecular structures. Mention the key concept that Structure determines Property determines Function. Mention that although many structures resolve bond lengths to within 0.2-0.6 Angstroms, that this just isn't good enough to resolve some important questions about chemical mechanisms related to function. I am currently writing a paper on an alternative "ruler" using isotopic fractionation.
Next year I may something about the importance of synchrotrons and neutron sources, and crystallographic databases such as the Cambridge Structural Database, which contains more than 700,000 structures for small organic molecules and organometallics.