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Acta Crystallogr A. 2008 Jan;64(Pt 1):246-58. Epub 2007 Dec 21.

On wine, chirality and crystallography.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics, University of Virginia School of Medicine, Charlottesville, Virginia 22908-0736, USA.


As the first centennial of X-ray diffraction is inevitably drawing closer, it is tempting to reflect on the impact that this fascinating discipline has had on natural sciences and how it has changed the world we live in. Also, next year is the 160th anniversary of the fateful April afternoon when Louis Pasteur separated D- from L-tartrate crystals, an event that many science historians recognize as the birth of stereochemistry, and the first step that the barely nascent field of crystallography took on the road to elucidate a fundamental phenomenon of chemistry and biology - chirality. Many great minds - Pasteur, Van 't Hoff, Fischer, Lord Kelvin, the Braggs, Astbury and Bijvoet, to mention just a few - contributed along the way. But one central inanimate character was there at all times - an inconspicuous somewhat obscure organic compound found in wine: tartaric acid. This is the story of its contribution to science.

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