Crystallography in Italy: General Introduction

A brief summary of the story of cristallografy in Italy

Italy can boast an old tradition in the field of Crystallography. It suffices to remember that in the 16th century, the Medici Family gathered in Florence one of the oldest and most precious collections of natural crystals and morphological studies were initiated by Vannoccio Biringuccio. Here, however, we wish to concentrate on the birth and growth of modern structural crystallography in Italy.

The first structural work with X-ray diffraction was carried out around 1923-24 in Milano by the group headed by G. Bruni and formed by G.R. Levi, A. Ferrari, G. Peyronel and G. Natta. Not only G. Natta pioneered X-ray crystallography in Italy, but, when he moved his interest to polymer science, with his co-workers P. Corradini and G. Allegra, he applied X-ray diffraction to the structural characterisation of synthetic polymers and for his outstanding results in this field he became Nobel Laureate for Chemistry in 1963.

A. Ferrari was the founder of the crystallographic school in Parma, where his co-workers L. Cavalca and M. Nardelli were very successful in creating and maintaining a large and productive group.In the mid thirties G. Giacomello in Rome and S. Bezzi in Padova were the first to apply X-ray crystallography to organic compounds and in 1954 they founded the first Centres for Structural Chemistry of the National Research Council (CNR) and established international collaborations. G. Giacomello had among his co-workers V. Caglioti, P. Corradini, A.M. Liquori and A. Ripamonti. Today, the important "G. Giacomello" Institute for Structural Chemistry located in Monterotondo (near Rome) bears the name of his founder.

When in the early sixties A.M. Liquori moved to Naples, he encouraged the young L. Mazzarella to visit M.F. Perutz in Cambridge. There he contributed to a pioneering paper on the crystal structure of haemoglobin, thus becoming the first Italian protein crystallographerIn Padova S. Bezzi initially dedicated his interest to set up and improve the experimental and computational methodologies of crystal structure analysis and in 1940 he published the structure of p-dibromobenzene. In the CNR Centre he founded in Padova, Bezzi's co-workers were U. Croatto, V. Scatturin, and C. Panattoni, who carried out relevant researches in the field of structural inorganic chemistry, and M. Mammi with his group, who developed the initial route of organic crystal chemistry into protein crystallography and in 1975 became the director of the CNR Centre for the Study of Biopolymers.

The structural study of organic compounds in the late fifties was also promoted by M. Simonetta in Milano. He was mainly a theoretical chemist, but his farsightedness led him to pursue the direct interaction between crystallographers and theoreticians.

In the sixties, in Florence, L. Sacconi, an internationally renowned transition metal chemist, was among the first in Italy to understand the enormous potentialities of crystallography in coordination and organometallic chemistry, especially if aimed at establishing basic correlations between structure and properties. Today, the members of the former Sacconi's team propose themselves as the enthusiastic organisers of the XXth IUCr meeting in 2005. A summary of the present researches is presented in the following Chemical Crystallography section.

In the field of mineralogical crystallography, the first structural work was carried out in the late thirties in Rome by the group of E. Onorato. After the war, the structural analysis of minerals continued to be developed by various groups. In Rome, F. Sgarlata developed a very efficient set of crystallographic programs for the Olivetti ELEA computer (at that time a valid competitor of IBM 1620). In 1958 the group directed by M. Fenoglio in Turin, already active before the war, acquired the first 3-circle single-crystal diffractometer in Italy and initiated the era of modern structure analysis.

In Florence, by the Mineralogy Institute of the University directed by G. Carobbi, started their career F. Mazzi, G. Cocco and C. Garavelli, who later developed important crystallographic schools in Pavia, Perugia and Bari. In Pisa S. Bonatti started major research in crystallography, which was then successfully developed by G. Gottardi, S. Merlino and co-workers. The groups in Florence, Genoa, Pavia, Pisa, Rome and Turin soon joined their efforts and founded the CNR National Center of Crystallography, later concentrated in Pavia only.

A summary of the present researches is presented in the following Mineralogical Crystallography section.In the mid sixties the role of Crystallography started to enlarge towards other fields.The Italian Crystal Growth Association (AICC) was created soon after the birth of the IOCG (International Organisation for Crystal Growth) and collected practically all the Italian growers from industry, CNR and academic world. Italian growers proved very active not only from the scientific point of view, but also in the organisation of many national and international schools and meetings. A summary of the present researches is presented in the following Crystal Growth section.

Also in the field of Materials Science Italian crystallography is well represented and a summary of the present researches is presented in the corresponding section.

In the field of protein crystallography, after the groups in Naples and Padova a third important group was established in Pavia and to day Italy can count more than 15 groups. A summary of the present researches is presented in the Biocrystallography section.

Finally, among Italian crystallographers the researches on experimental and theoretical Methodologies have always played an important role and a summary of the present activities is presented in the corresponding section.A special section is devoted to the ELETTRA Synchrotron radiation source in Trieste, equipped with a diffraction beamline and to Italy's involvement in Other Non Conventional Sources.

The role of Italian crystallography within the International Union of Crystallography (of which Italy was official member since the creation in 1947) received a first important recognition when Rome was chosen as the site of the VIth IUCr Congress in 1963.

In 1967 the need of coordinating the crystallographic activities led to the foundation of the Italian Crystallographic Association (AIC). From the 108 founding members, mainly chemists and mineralogists, the association rapidly enlarged its membership (reaching now over 300) as well as its interests. Physicists, Biologists, and Materials Scientists joined AIC and in 1993 the unification with AICC was the last important step to enlarge the scopes of the association.