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10 Crystals That Changed 2014 For The Better

The United Nations declared 2014 the International Year of Crystallography, and here at the National Science Foundation, we took that to heart by spotlighting a crystal each week. Here we count down our most popular crystals as determined by our followers on Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter. Happy New Year, and get ready for 2015, the International Year of Light!

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10. Wurtzite Boron Nitride

Yoke Khin Yap

The “hardest” crystal in the world – reportedly 58% tougher than diamonds – wurtzite boron nitride is also even harder to find than those well-known precious gems.

9. Pollen

Gbiten via Wikimedia Commons

Even amorphous materials like the sporopollenin of the pollen grain shell can have a degree of structural order that is semi-crystalline or semi-ordered. That's why scientists and engineers use crystallography techniques to study them.

8. Potassium Bitartrate

Awakening via Wikimedia Commons

Uruguayan chemists and winemakers created a wine Cristalizado to celebrate International Year of Crystallography with a unique process where small natural crystals of potassium bitartrate (aka cream of tartar and a natural byproduct of grape fermentation) would form inside the bottles.

7. Glucose

View this video on YouTube

National Science Foundation

One of several simple sugars that helped herald National Chemistry Week, glucose is probably the most important simple sugar in human metabolism.

5. Caffeine

Wellcome Images

The most-consumed stimulant in the world, caffeine is in coffee, tea, chocolate and other favorite foods and drinks. Scientists have long studied (and consumed!) the stuff to understand its impact and uses.

3. Deoxyribonucleic Acid aka DNA

Wikimedia Commons

Crystallographers will quickly tell you that Rosalind Franklin's use of x-ray crystallography was essential to scientists’ understanding of DNA’s double-helix structure.

2. Buckyballs

Thomas Hawk via Flickr

So much hoopla this year about the “Brazuca” – the reportedly new, improved soccer ball in World Cup 2014 that it reminded us of one of the strongest known materials. At NSF, we have a special affection for buckyballs, having funded two of the three primary researchers who produced the very first one in 1985.

1. Pyrite

Bart Kahr

To some it may seem like fool’s gold, but pyrite is always a thing of beauty. For NSF, it’s a thing of science, as the agency supports a Center for Chemical Innovation devoted to solar fuel research and other researchers who look for smarter, better ways to harness solar energy. NYU Crystallographer Bart Kahr, who recently lectured at NSF, says this particular pyrite crystal is his own favorite as it was a gift from his wife and son.

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