Have you ever wondered how something small
like a virus or a bacterium can infect a person
and cause anything from minor irritations
such as a sore throat, to more severe symptoms
like fever and measles, or even kill? Or have you marvelled
at the elegant yet intricate double helix structure of DNA?
How do we know that these things really exist or how they
work? And how do we know what medicines to take to treat
a particular disease? Thinking about or answering such
questions was way beyond our reach until a few decades ago.
Then came the discovery and refinement of crystallography
in the first half of the 20th century and its application to
biology from the 1950s onward. Slowly this opened our eyes
to the wonders of the microcosm, showing us how biology
works at the cellular, molecular and even atomic level.
We live in a physical, three-dimensional world. We are
born with two eyes and two ears set slightly apart. This
allows us to perceive the world around us. We not only see
the height and the width of any object but its depth too.
This in turn allows us to understand how one thing relates
to another – is it smaller, thicker, broader, behind or in
front of another? Are boxes neatly stacked one on top of
the other or are they randomly thrown onto a big heap?