Flack Lectures

The Howard Flack Lecture Series of the Swiss Society for Crystallography SGK/SSCr

The Howard Flack Lecturer Award is conferred annually by the Swiss Society for Crystallography on a scientist who is making or has made significant recent contributions to the field of structural science or involving the use of structural science in the chemical, biological, physical, medicinal or materials sciences. The awardee is then normally invited for a week-long tour of Switzerland to present seminars as part of The Howard Flack Lecture Series at several Swiss institutions and research facilities.

The Howard Flack Lecture Series was created by the SGK/SSCr in 2018 in honour of Howard Flack (1943–2017), a colleague and a friend, who is remembered for his enormous contributions to crystallography and structural science in general and to Swiss science in particular. This initiative has attracted interest from the Swiss Academy of Sciences (Platform, Mathematics, Astronomy and Physics, to which we belong), which partially sponsors the lecture series.

Howard undertook his PhD studies with Kathleen Lonsdale at University College London, then worked as a research assistant in the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, UK. How better to become interested in research and crystallography? He moved to the Laboratoire de Cristallographie at the University of Geneva, Switzerland in 1971 and spent the rest of his career there. David Watkin and Dieter Schwarzenbach eloquently describe his life and work in J. Appl. Cryst. 2017, 50, 666.

Howard made many significant contributions to the field of crystallography, but is perhaps best known for his seminal ideas concerning the determination of absolute structure by X-ray diffraction, which originated in 1983, but were constantly being improved upon and extended until his untimely passing. Prior to 1983, it was challenging to determine the absolute configuration of chiral organic molecules, even though this information was vitally important for many chemists and for the pharmaceutical industry, in particular. Howard developed a robust mathematical algorithm, which improved substantially the ease and reliability of the absolute structure determination. This algorithm is now incorporated in all of the usual software and produces a value, now known widely as the Flack parameter, which most people take for granted these days. This development is described articulately by David Watkin in Tetrahedron: Asymmetry, 2017, 28, 1189. Additional information on absolute structure determination can be found in A. Linden, Tetrahedron: Asymmetry, 2017, 28, 1314 and references therein.

Howard was a humble man, who had a special sense of humour. The Swiss Society for Crystallography is proud to name an award and lecture series in his honour.


Flack Lectures 2019

"Design of Advanced Materials?"

Prof. Dr. Matthew J. Rosseinsky


Flack Lectures 2018

"MOFs and COFs as porous crystals for clean energy and water from desert air"

Prof. Omar Yaghi