In case you didn't know, it's the International Year of Crystallography. A year-long celebration of all metrics crystalline initiated by the United Nations to celebrate the centenary of the discovery of X-ray crystallography. It's a celebration that will be close to the heart of many a materials scientist, chemist, structural biologist and others. The International Union of Crystallography, the European Crystallographic Association, the American Crystallographic Association and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Kristallographie among other organisations have been organising various events and celebrations.

There has always been an esthetic element to crystallography, the crystals themselves are often beautiful, who can forget their first dazzling blue copper sulfate crystal garden? But, the secrets unlocked by probing a crystal at the atomic level with X-rays generates the well-known diffraction patterns that reveal the insider symmetry and the details of the connections between those atoms. Throughout the last century countless crystals have been laid bare by X-rays from antibiotics to zeolites and much more in between in the realms of organic and inorganic chemistry, proteins, DNA, and superconductors.

Intriguingly for British science, crystallography spawned some of the most well-known female scientists - Rosalind Franklyn, Dorothy Hodgkin and the UK's first female professor of chemistry Judith Howard - where other realms of British chemistry and materials, at first glance, seemed to be male dominated. Through the Illuminating Atoms exhibition, Max Alexander, portraits the men and women at the forefront of crystallography in this centenary year. Among my favourites from the online gallery are those of a computerised crystal reflected in the eye of Margarete Neu, a Macromolecular Crystallographer, at GlaxoSmithKline, in Stevenage and the stunning beach view of physicist David Keen of the University of Oxford, showing the diffraction pattern of quartz dug into the sand with hundreds of holes.

At the Royal Albert Hall in London until the 7th December, the exhibition can be viewed by those attending performances at the venue or on several free, open days during November.

David Bradley blogs at Sciencebase Science Blog and tweets @sciencebase, he is author of the popular science book "Deceived Wisdom".