SUNY at Albany
June 19-23, 2001
What is it Trying to Tell You?
In 1938 W.L. Bragg became Cavendish Professor of Physics at Cambridge. He was the founder of X-ray caystallography, and he became my Ph.D. suprovisor. He had a profound understanding of the interaction of X-rays and crystals and an artistic, humble approach to Nature that was part of his greatness as a scientist. When looking at a new structure, he would not say, complacently, this is just what I would have expected, but ask modestly,"What is it trying to tell you?" New structures can be dramatically, unexpectedly revealing, give you new insights into chemical mechanisms and occasionally open new fields of research. What they tell you is not preliminary, provisional and subject to revision, as Karl Pepper maintained all scientific results are, but gennerally conclusive and final. This makes X-ray crystallograpthy and especially protein crystallography an intellecutally satisfying pursuit. On the other hand, it offers no free lunch. You may spend years on tedious grinding work before one day, suddenly, dramatically, the curtan rises. I shall illustrate this scheme with: the structures of common salt, vitamin B12, methylmalonyl CoA mutase and finally, the allosteric mechanism of haemoglobin.
Max F. Perutz
MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology,