CSD-Educators: Michael Zdilla Professor at Temple University

It is my pleasure to welcome Professor Michael Zdilla from Temple University as our guest for the third blog of the CSD Educators series. In his journey through crystallography teaching, Mike has created the Database for Educational Crystallographic Online Resources (DECOR), which we now host here at the CCDC. In its creator’s words, “DECOR is the world’s first online repository of shared teaching materials for crystallographic education. The site has an array of downloadable visual aids, animations, homework problems, and links to online courses and software downloads. DECOR is a resource for anyone in search of teaching tools for development of a new course for crystallography, augmentation of existing courses, or the pursuit of an informal education in crystallography and diffraction.”

Since the CCDC became the hosts of DECOR last month we have seen a tremendously positive response from many of you and have already received new content to help us enrich this resource further. We therefore asked Mike to tell us more about his journey and do the honours in presenting DECOR and the vision for this project to the community.


The logo of DECOR


From Michael Zdilla, Professor at Temple University

When I began as an assistant professor at Temple University, I had proposed to develop an undergraduate course in crystallography. Having been inspired by a chapter by Philip Fanwick, “Observations on Crystallographic Education”, I had been convinced that crystallography was too central to the discipline of chemistry to go unaddressed in the undergraduate curriculum. Having learned to execute single crystal structure solution and analysis as a graduate student -a component essential to my thesis work- I had become passionate about the technique, and wished I had a firmer foundation, one which I resolved to impart to undergraduates at Temple. However, having no formal training in theory myself, I had to learn the theory myself (or more accurately, from Werner Massa via “Crystal Structure Determination, 2nd edition”). And while for my inorganic chemistry courses, I could rely on the Virtual Inorganic Pedagogical Electronic Resource (VIPEr) to download teaching tools, for my crystallography class, I needed to develop most of my own teaching materials: lecture notes, PowerPoint slides, practice problems, quizzes, and exams. I wished that a VIPEr-like repository existed for crystallography.

So I created one; DECOR's first implementation was modest; just my own teaching materials. But soon, with permission, I added teaching materials shared with me by Phil Fanwick and George Sheldrick, and the resource began to take shape. Over the past 7 years, it has expanded manifold by contributions of teaching materials by crystallographers the world over. While I did what I could to promote the resource via presentation in ACA poster sessions and a feature in ACA NetReflexions, I always felt personally soliciting contributions, frequently promoting the site to alert other crystallographers of its presence, and uploading contributed resources myself was not sustainable. I felt compelled to find a way to move it to a more visible, more permanent home where it would be more diligently maintained, and could outlive its maker.

It was at an ACA meeting where I was promoting the site that Amy Sarjeant suggested to me that CCDC might be a good home for it. Amy was transitioning out of her role promoting education and outreach as General Manager, and put me into contact with Suzanna Ward to explore the idea. Suzanna and the Education and Outreach Team, which includes Yinka Olatunji-Ojo and Ilaria Gimondi, have transferred the site to CCDC’s site, where it will henceforth be maintained. I am so excited to know that this resource is now in such a visible place, under the authority of people who know how to manage databases! I am so grateful to Amy, Suzanna, Yinka and Ilaria for helping this dream to come true.

And now, I am blogging to ask you to help make DECOR the best resource it can be. If you teach a crystallographic course, and have developed teaching materials, please consider sharing them on DECOR. Email hello@ccdc.cam.ac.uk to inquire. Or, if you are looking for materials to use in a new or extant crystallography class, please visit the DECOR webpage. Consider using it to develop a course at your institution, and let’s make crystallography a central part of science curricula, as it should be.

Resources by Topic page, showcasing the different subjects of the material available from DECOR.



Join us for our Educators User Group Meeting on the 16th and 17th of March to learn and reflect on Digital, shared global learning. Find out more about this meeting and save your place here.