Dr. Peter Mueller Visits Andover to Discuss X-Ray Crystallography

Although Dr. Peter Mueller, Wednesday’s guest lecturer to the Andover Science and Technology Club, lectured on x-ray crystallography during his presentation to the Andover Science and Tecnology Club on Wednsday, he initially discovered his passion for science through playing with nature. “As a child, I was already interested in science,” said Mueller. “I was constantly fascinated with nature, plants and animals.” “There was a history of scientists on my mother’s side, and my family always encouraged me to [pursue] my interests,” he added. Mueller said he was generally a curious student in school and did especially well in science classes. Following his success in high school, Mueller studied chemistry at Kaiserslautern University of Technology in Germany where he found the material especially challenging. “I was interested in it, but I did not love it,” said Mueller. Mueller’s true scientific passion emerged when he took a structural chemistry course. He said, “I loved the class and I loved the teacher. He was this really unique British professor who would lecture the class with half-closed eyes and trace the tiles on the desks as he spoke.” Mueller completed his master’s degree in structural chemistry and studied with his professor. He said, “[The subject] hooked me after my first class and it hasn’t let me go since.” Mueller said his current work in x-ray crystallography has a base in the topics he studied in his first structural chemistry course. Mueller earned his PhD at the University of Göttingen in Germany. His thesis focused on problems in the modern day analysis of x-ray structures and addressed ways to improve crystallography methods. Mueller went on to do his post-doctorate research at the University of California in Los Angeles before getting a position at MIT. “About 75 to 80 percent of my work is for other research groups,” said Mueller. “Outside research groups develop a new crystal, which they claim has certain properties, and they ask me to find their crystal’s structure and determine whether their claims are accurate.” Mueller’s personal work is a continuation of his PhD thesis and involves identifying problems in the crystallography process and recommending possible improvements. In his presentation on Wednesday, Mueller highlighted the basic x-ray crystallography principles, a technique used to determine the molecular structure of crystals. Mueller kicked off the event by discussing a recent news article that reported on the possibility of discovering a cure for AIDS through modern x-ray crystallography techniques. In his speech, Mueller discussed crystallography techniques through the ages. According to Mueller, the earliest form of crystallography involved studying the structures of snowflakes in the 17th century. Mueller went on to discuss modern crystallography techniques, which involve firing beams of x-ray light at crystals and studying the diffraction patterns. Mueller defined and demonstrated forms of symmetry and diffraction theory, which use mathematical techniques to understand electron density and crystal structure. He closed with brief explanations on how crystal structures can be determined through the use of x-rays. Andover Science and Technology Club sponsored Mueller’s visit to campus. Luke Hansen ’11, Co-Head of Andover Science and Technology Club, said the club looks to bring a diverse group of scientific speakers to campus each year. He said, “We hosted two physics presentations earlier this year which were great, but we try to bring guest speakers in all fields of science and technology.” “Dr. Mueller’s research is in x-ray crystallography, which is a subfield of chemistry, and we plan to host a neurobiologist and material scientist later this year,” Hansen continued. Mueller’s wife, Claire Gallou, is an Instructor in French at Andover. Mueller lives on campus and occasionally plays cello for faculty orchestra concerts. Hansen said that Mueller’s connection to Andover played a role in the club’s decision to bring him to campus. Adam Levine ’11 and Jeremiah Hagler, Instructor in Biology and the Faculty Advisor to the Andover Science and Technology Club both suggested Dr. Mueller as a guest lecturer to Hansen. “By inviting Dr. Mueller to present to the Andover community, we hoped not only learn about the important field of x-ray crystallography, but also to increase student scientific interest and promote the exploration of science outside the classroom,” Hansen said. Peter Bang ’11, Co-Head of the Andover Science and Technology Club, said, “I hope this will be a good learning experience for students who are interested in science outside of the classroom.”