Missed opportunities in crystallography

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Scrutinized from the perspective of time, the giants in the history of crystallography more than once missed a nearly obvious chance to make another great discovery, or went in the wrong direction. This review analyzes such missed opportunities focusing on macromolecular crystallographers (using Perutz, Pauling, Franklin as examples), although cases of particular historical (Kepler), methodological (Laue, Patterson) or structural (Pauling, Ramachandran) relevance are also described. Linus Pauling, in particular, is presented several times in different circumstances, as a man of vision, oversight, or even blindness. His example underscores the simple truth that also in science incessant creativity is inevitably connected with some probability of fault.Starting with Johannes Kepler, the article reviews several groundbreaking discoveries in the history of crystallography and points out how they could have been made earlier, or by competing scientists, if some aspects – quite obvious in retrospect – had not been missed.

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