Legend of Chrystallographers’ Beards

Inspired by the Ig Nobel Prize-winning study “Microbiological Laboratory Hazard of Bearded Men“, investigator Steve Dahms alerts us to a legend about chrystallographers’ beards. One account appears in the study:

Gerhard M.J. Schmidt, 1919-1971“, David Ginsberg, Israel Journal of Chemistry, Vol. 10,1972, pp. 59-72. [Schmidt is pictured here, at right.] The author writes:

“Both as an organic chemist and as a crystallographer, Gerhard appreciated crystals and crystallization. It may have been from him that I first heard the story of those early bearded heroes of organic chemistry. When a student had difficulty in crystallizing a compound they would simply shake their beards over the flask containing tlle offending substance. Then, 10 and behold, after nucleation had done its job, crystallization set in. Gerhard believed that the beard of an Adolf von Baeyer or an Otto Wallach could indeed be a source of crystals of every conceivable space group. But he was abreast of the times and realistically realized that, alas, the era of the patriarchal beard was over. He voiced the idea that one could, in principle, have a salt-shaker type of container in which there would be microcrystalline shapes made of an inert material. One shake would convert even the most cleanly shaven male graduate student, indeed, hIS female counterpart, into the equivalent (in this respect) of a Baeyer.”

BONUS: Manuel Barbeito, co-author of “Microbiological Laboratory Hazard of Bearded Men“, will give his first-ever public talk about it. That will happen next week, on Saturday, February 19, 1t 7:30 pm, at the Renaissance Downtown Hotel, as part of the Improbable Research show at the AAAS Annual Meeting, in Washington, DC. The show is free and open to the public. Please spread the word!