JEROME KARLE (1918 - 2013) and HERBERT HAUPTMAN (1917 - 2011). The Phases and Magnitudes of the Structure Factors. (Acta Crystallographica 1950, 3, 181-187.)

Since the discovery of X-ray diffraction in 1912, the major problem with the technique was that interpreting the diffraction patterns was a laborious and time-consuming task. The determination of the structure of a single substance could require one or more years of work based upon indirect inferences which often amounted to educated guesswork. The greatest difficulty arose from the fact that, whereas the intensity of an X-ray wave could be measured, it was not possible to measure the timing of the wave's undulations, known as the wave's phase. The great achievement of Hauptman and Karle was to develop a series of mathematical formulas, relying heavily on probability theory, which made it possible to infer the phases by comparing the intensities of different diffracted X-ray beams.

Karle and Hauptman's system met with a good deal of skepticism from the specialists in X-ray crystallography in the 1950s and was largely ignored for about ten years. This neglect was partly due to the fact that most crystallographers didn't understand the new technique. It also stemmed from the fact that the necessary mathematical calculations themselves were complicated. It was the introduction of computers and special programs in the 1960s that finally led to the widespread acceptance and use of direct methods.

Jerome Karle and Herbert Hauptman, both native New Yorkers, were trained as a physicist-mathematician and a chemist, respectively. The two met when they were both employed at the Naval Research Lab in 1947, and together they developed the basic mathematics behind the direct method. Notably, Karle has often insisted that it was his early collaboration with his wife Isabella Karle (1921 -) that laid the groundwork for their Nobel Prize-winning work. After Hauptman left the Naval Research Lab, Karle and his wife developed the general procedure of interpreting three-dimensional structures by means of X-ray crystallography. He himself believed, as do many other crystallographers, that Isabella Karle's achievements were equally deserving of being recognized by the Nobel Prize.

World of Chemistry, Gale, 2006, "Herbert A. Hauptman," Gale Biography in Context, Web. 26Jan2012.

"Jerome Karle," World of Scientific Discovery. Detroit: Gale, 2006.

"Herbert Hauptman," Encyclopedia of World Biography. Vol. 24. Detroit: Gale, 2005.

List of books in exhibit (links go to author information and references)