Congratulating Olga Kennard – CSD founder and winner of the 12th IUCr Ewald Prize

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Written by

Suzanna Ward

Posted on

August 7, 2020

Last week we were delighted to learn that Dr Olga Kennard had been awarded the twelfth IUCr Ewald Prize for her invaluable pioneering contribution to the development of crystallographic databases, namely the Cambridge Structural Database (CSD).

Since starting at the CCDC I have got to know about some of the history of the CSD and the huge impact Olga has made to the crystallographic and the wider scientific community. Every day I am reminded about what an incredible founder we have and I can see her influence on many of the things we hold dear; from the CSD, to our knowledge bases, to the CCDC building in Cambridge.


The early days of CCDC - Olga Kennard, David Watson and Sam Motherwell The early days of CCDC - Olga Kennard, David Watson and Sam Motherwell


Meeting Olga Kennard

I had the privilege to meet Olga at the CSD 50 celebrations in 2015 where she gave the opening lecture about how the CCDC was established. The talk was hugely inspiring and an incredibly fitting way to start the fifty-year celebration (if you haven’t had the opportunity to watch it I would encourage you to do so here). The presentation led us through the establishment of the CCDC when, in 1965, after securing a small grant Olga started work creating what is now known as the CSD.

From what Olga said it sounds like the initial process to create the CSD was very different to what we do now and involved punch cards and knitting needles! The process may have changed but a lot of the decisions Olga and her team made from the outset are still true and are what make the CSD the truly special resource that it is today.

Right from the start Olga recognised the importance of having numbers that could be relied on, with a rigorously checked database that people could trust. With now over one million structures in the database that is still the case today and we continue to look at new ways to ensure the integrity of the data we hold.


A photo taken at the CSD 50 event in Cambridge with Olga pictured at the right on the front row.

A photo taken at the CSD 50 event in Cambridge with Olga pictured at the right on the front row.


CSD Artefacts

At the CCDC we have amassed a treasure trove of artefacts and material that chart the history of our centre, including photo albums, manuals, books, slides and notes.

These include a booklet about a talk Olga gave in 1995 at Birkbeck College London about her and J.D. Bernal's shared vision. In this booklet Olga described databanks like the CSD as have having three main functions.

  1. The first was to gather the knowledge and make it available to the community.
  2. The second function was to transform the data into a knowledge base.
  3. The last function she describes is to facilitate the comparison and collective analysis of individual experiments to gain new insights.

This vision and these functions still ring true and in a lot of areas outside of crystallography still aspire to establish something that would start to serve some of these functions.

I hope that the thousands of research papers published using the CSD, the hundreds of thousands of users, its demonstrated impact in both academia and industry and our associated search and analysis tools show just how far along that journey we have come.


Published Structures from Olga

Not only did Olga establish the CSD and the vision for many components of the CSD-System we know and love today such as Mogul and Isostar, she also published structures that are shared through the database.

In total she has authored over 140 structures in the CSD with the latest addition published in 1991.


CSD Entry JOSCAV - a uridine structure and one of Olga Kennard's most recent structures published in 1991

CSD Entry JOSCAV a uridine structure and one of Olga’s most recent structures, published in  1991


Founding our community

The other way I have got to know about Olga is through you, our community.

I have lost count of the times someone has come to talk to me after a presentation or at our booth at a conference to tell me about meeting or working with Olga. Those conversations are always full of warmth and huge admiration for what Olga achieved. I feel extremely privileged to have met such a pioneering lady that changed the history of crystallography and I am incredibly honoured to have played a small part in continuing to share the resource she established.

It is with great pride and admiration that we congratulate Olga on this award, and we hope to continue the journey that she established for many years to come.

In Olgas talk at Birkbeck she concluded that the great ocean of truth is still in front of us and I certainly think that is still true today.


Concluding remarks from Olga Kennard at the J D Bernal Lecture 1995Concluding remarks from “Bernal’s vision: From data to insight” by Dr Olga Kennard OBE FRS – The J D Bernal Lecture 1995 delivered at Birkbeck College London.


Find out statistics and insights on the CSD today on this page.

Read about the IUCR's Ewald Prize and past winners here.

Read the IUCR's interview with Olga Kennard here.


CSD (100)

IUCr (3)

Olga Kennard (1)

People (7)