CSD Educators: Helen Maynard-Casely from Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation

In this new CSD Educators blog, it is my pleasure to introduce Helen Maynard-Casely from Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). In this blog, Helen, who is also a CSD Champion, will tell us about the International School of Crystallography, held in person in Erice (Italy) between 3rd and 11th June 2022. 

Panorama from Erice

From Helen Maynard-Casely from Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) 

Can you think of a more idyllic setting to learn about crystallography than the Erice school? The International School of Crystallography, held each year in this mountain-top village in Sicily, builds on a long history of scientific schools at the Ettore Majorana Foundation and Centre for Scientific Culture. Established in the 1960’s, the village sought to be a centre for scientists to meet and discuss the cutting edges of their fields and to provide an income to the small village struggling in the post-war era. The village of Erice now thrives on Science and Tourism, and those participating from all over the world receive lectures in buildings steeped in long history.

Picture of a wall with posters from all the schools held in Erice.

Every week the Ettore Majorana Centre hosts a different group of scientists, the Crystallography School – established in 1974 – can you spot the famed orange poster? Image Credit – Helen Maynard-Casely.

The Crystallography course at Erice has a long history too – running with different themes each year since 1974, many have been introduced to new and innovative branches of crystallography through the course. We were of course especially fortunate to be there this year – the first in-person Erice course since 2019. Participants and lecturers alike were giddy with being able to not only be in such a setting, but to be able to see each other in three dimensions. A particular highlight was the poster session, held in the cloisters of the San Francesco building, which allowed all the participants a chance to present their work and in many cases this was the first time they had done it not from behind a screen.

Picture of a lecture in San Domenico lecture theatre.

Participants from the 56th High-Pressure and 57th Diffuse Scattering courses hearing about the history of Erice within the San Domenico lecture theatre. Image Credit – Helen Maynard-Casely.

The Erice Crystallography course for 2022 was, in fact, two – with the 56th course (on High-Pressure) and the 57th course (on Diffuse Scattering) being held simultaneously. This was the fourth iteration of the High-Pressure course; I was delighted to be asked to co-direct it with Kamil Dziubek and Shanti Deemyad. The Diffuse School was the first of its kind, and through its co-directors Nozomi Ando and Andrew Goodwin brought together the biological and materials community. The overlap between the two courses also allowed us to have three joint lectures – as well as joining together for the highlight of the poster session.

Picture from the CCDC workshop

The CCDC workshop – hosted by Ilaria Gimondi and Suzanna Ward, during which participants learned how to navigate the CSD, investigate the recently curated high-pressure structure subset and analyse high-pressure structures. Image Credit – Helen Maynard-Casely.

The high-pressure school ran with a 50/50 mixture of lectures and workshops – allowing participants to not only hear about the emerging technologies and analytical methods they could apply to their research, but also to have hands-on experience of data analysis and loading of diamond anvil cells. One of the key developments since the last High-Pressure course in 2016, has become the availability of 4th generation synchrotron and free electron laser sources, these have really moved the horizon of the field, allowing more and more extremes to be accessed. In fact, in many ways, the workshop had morphed into a more general ‘Extreme conditions’ course – with lectures on laser heating and extremes of magnetic field included in the program.

We were very grateful for sponsorship from the CCDC, also having Ilaria Gimondi and Suzanna Ward come to Erice to give us a workshop. The timing was particularly great, with the recent creation of the high-pressure subset within the CSD – inspired by a recent review of high-pressure structures in the database. There are now over 3500 high-pressure structures in the CSD, providing a fantastic resource for us to compare and understand the effects of pressure upon our materials.

group picture of the participants of the school

The participants of the 56th International School of Crystallography. Image credit - Shanti Deemyad.

So, after three years of planning, coupled with the uncertainty of the last two years, the course is now over! I certainly do encourage those with the opportunity to go to one of the Erice schools to take it up – you will be rewarded with an excellent experience that will have you buzzing with new scientific possibilities. With the 2023 course theme of Structural Drug Design, and 2024 on Powder Diffraction – there is much for the CCDC community to be excited about at Erice.

Editor's notes: