Science & Technology


Historically, crystallography has been a scientific concern. People collected and displayed them, described and catalogued them, theorized about them and ultimately bombarded them with X-rays to find out what they looked like on the nanoscopic scale.

Crystals were engineered.

  • A few crystals (most notably salt, and during the last 400 years, sugar) were very useful and thus huge industries rose around them. These industries synthesized crystals on an industrial scale. Originally a cottage industry, alchemy has become a gigantic industry, synthesizing novel crystals daily, although nowadays modern alchemists hope to do this in a more … organized and effective way.
  • Other crystals could only be hunted for and gathered. These were often beguiling – so beguiling that physicians were convinced that they had to have some medical application – but these gemstones were luxury items, set in jewels (and setting certain crystals in precious metals is one of the oldest engineering activities of urban societies) carving them (we have very ancient pieces of carved jade, and see XXXVII.10 of Pliny the Elder’s Natural History on rock crystal), and later faceting them (possibly starting in India four millennia ago, developed further in the Middle East during the Middle Ages, before arriving in Europe in the late Middle Ages).

The distinction between science and technology is rather fuzzy – Richard Feynman’s wrote that “what I cannot build, I cannot understand” – so perhaps it is best to treat them together.