Arthur Lindo Patterson, his function and element preferences in early crystal structures

Carl H. Schwalbe*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In 1934, Arthur Lindo Patterson showed that a map of interatomic vectors is obtainable from measured X-ray diffraction data without phase information. Such maps were interpretable for simple crystal structures, but proliferation and overlapping of peaks caused confusion as the number of atoms increased. Since the peak height of a vector between two particular atoms is related to the product of their atomic numbers, a complicated structure could effectively be reduced to a simple one by including just a few heavy atoms (of high atomic number) since their interatomic vectors would stand out from the general clutter. Once located, these atoms provide approximate phases for Fourier syntheses that reveal the locations of additional atoms. Surveys of small-molecule structures in the Cambridge Structural Database during the periods 1936-1969, when Patterson methods were commonly used, and 1980-2013, dominated by direct methods, demonstrate large differences in the abundance of certain elements. The moderately heavy elements K, Rb, As and Br are the heaviest elements in the structure more than 3 times as often in the early period than in the recent period. Examples are given of three triumphs of the heavy atom method and two initial failures that had to be overcome.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295-306
Number of pages12
JournalCrystallography Reviews
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Bibliographical note

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Crystallography Reviews on 7/7/14, available online:


  • A.L. Patterson
  • Cambridge Structural Database
  • element abundance
  • heavy atom method
  • Patterson function


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