2013 ISBC Overview


The Laboratory of Crystallographic Studies (CSIC-UGR) organised the 4th International School on Biological Crystallization (ISBC2013, http://www.isbcgranada.org/) under the auspices of the International Union of Crystallography through the Commission of Crystal Growth. As in previous editions, the event took place in the Centre of the beautiful City of Granada, an ideal place to promote close scientific and social interactions between the attendees.

The School attracted the interest of postgraduate/postdoctoral students as well as research scientists from industry and academia that deal routinely with Crystallization processes but seek fundamental knowledge on the Crystallization phenomena and the behaviour of crystallising solutions. Students from 18 different countries around the world all came to Granada to learn from top quality international speakers, to hear case study presentations, to watch practical hands-on demonstrations, to participate in round table discussions and to present their research results in the purposely dedicated poster sessions.

During the five days of the School several subjects related to the field of the crystallization of biological materials were discussed, including special hot topics such as crystallization of large crystals for neutron diffraction, tiny crystals for XFEL studies and the crystallization of membrane proteins and large macromolecular complexes.

Organising Committee

Dr. José Antonio Gavira, Director of the School

Prof. Juan Manuel Garcia-Ruiz, co-director of the School

Dr. Alfonso García Caballero

Dr. José Manuel Delgado López 

Dr. Luis Antonio González Ramírez

Dr. Estela Pineda Molina


The turnout of the School was excellent having a total of 100 participants from 20 different countries, most of which were students (77 students, 77,0 %) and academics (12 academics, 12,0 %), being the rest composed of industrial representatives and exhibitors (Figure 1). The participants were supported by 33 speakers/demonstrators and a team of 7 people from the organisation, totalling 140 attendees.



Figure 1. Top: Distribution of the type of participants in the ISBC2013; Down: Number of participants in ISBC2013 by country of origin.

The multicultural nature of the School is also evident in the breakdown of nationalities by type of attendees (Figure 2).




Figure 2. Top: Countries of origin of the students attending the ISBC2013; Middle: Countries of origin of the academics attending the ISBC2013; Bottom: Countries of origin of the speakers attending the ISBC2013.

A considerable effort was made to provide financial support to as many students as possible. All of the 42 grant applicants were awarded a bursary to attend the School (Figure 3), including all the students coming from outside Spain (32, accounting for 76% of all the granted students).


Figure 3. Country of origin of the students that received a grant to attend the ISBC2013.

Programme of ISBC2013

ISBC covered five days of lectures and practical demonstrations carried by 25 selected experts in the field of Crystallization of biological macromolecules and biomineralization.

Main topics of ISBC2013

  • Nucleation: Classical and non-classical approaches

  • Crystal growth kinetics and mechanisms

  • Properties of macromolecular solutions relevant to crystallization

  • Screening: The search for crystallization conditions

  • Crystallization techniques: Batch, Vapour and Counter Diffusion, How do they work?

  • Crystallization and diffusion transport: gels, microfluidics and microgravity

  • Crystallization of large crystals for Neutron diffraction and of tiny crystals for XFEL studies.

  • Polymorphism in protein crystals

  • Robotics and crystallization

  • Case studies in Membrane Protein Crystallization

  • Lipid cubic phase, bicelles and detergents

  • Case studies in crystallization of Large Macromolecular Complexes

  • In vitro and in vivo studies of Biomineralization processes

The first day, Monday, started with an introduction to the School and was fully dedicated to explaining the whole process of crystallization, from the purification and preparation of protein solutions to the basic concepts of crystallization, nucleation and crystal growth kinetics and the different crystallization techniques (Figure 4).


Figure 4. Dr. Jeroen Mesters explaining the vapour diffusion technique.

Tuesday was devoted to special hot topics, including the crystallization of large crystals for neutron diffraction, tiny crystals for XFEL studies and the crystallization of membrane proteins and large macromolecular complexes (Figure 5).


Figure 5. “Crystallization of membrane proteins in lipidic systems”, talk given by Prof. Martin Caffrey.

On Wednesday morning there were sessions on specially relevant topics such as the crystallization of large protein complexes, tiny crystals for XFEL, on-chip crystallization, nucleant surfaces and data collection.

Wednesday afternoon and Thursday were dedicated to the very popular ‘Demonstration Fair’, at which 23 specialists offered short (20-40 minutes) practical sessions periodically at scheduled times. Participants were free to choose what sessions they wanted to attend and in the order they wished, so that they selected their own learning programme “a la carte”. The Demonstrations’ Fair proved to be an excellent teaching tool as it provided students with plenty of opportunities to interact on a personal basis with the teachers and to watch closely how to perform Crystallization experiments (Figure 6).


Figure 6. Dr. Karsten Diersk, during the Demonstrations Fair showing the students how to take DLS measurements in situ and prior to crystallization experiments.

Finally, the last day of the School had a special lecture on how to publish the Crystallization results from the IUCr perspective, followed by the best students’ poster presentations (Figure 7).


Figure 7. Francesca Otolina making her poster presentation, for which she was awarded a prize.

Social events

In addition to the scientific course, there was a parallel social programme which consisted of a welcome cocktail on Sunday, a night tour of outstanding beauty to the Moorish palaces of The Alhambra on Wednesday (Figure 8) and a Flamenco dinner party on Thursday in the traditional district of Albayzin (Figure 9), which is worldwide renowned for its flamenco music.


Figure 8. A group of students during their visit to the Alhambra.


Figure 9. A picture of the Flamenco Party on Thursday evening.


Overall, the School was deemed to be very successful as judged by the majority of positive comments written by the participants. The attendees were asked about three major items: the quality of the scientific programme, the demonstrations Fair, and the organisation (Figure 10). These are some of the comments:

  • The workshop was a great success and you should be proud being the organizer (of course you have put in lot of work for sure!). Thanks for keeping us involved in the field” (Jian Xu, Rigaku).

  • I congratulate you and the team at Granada for doing a truly wonderful job! It was a pleasure to be part of it” (Jeroen Mesters, University of Luebeck).

  • Thank you, Gavi, and thank the whole team for me.  This was the best ISBC yet!” (Howard Einspahr, IUCr).

  • This year's School was again great... as always...Thank you and your team for nice and useful Xtall week in Granada” (Ivana Kuta Smatanova, University of South Bohemia).

  • Congratulations once more to you and to the all team at Granada for doing a fantastic job! It was a pleasure to be there and thank you very much not to forget the neutrons and the growth of large crystals for them...” (Monika Spano, Institut de Biologie Structurale J. P. Ebel-CNRS).

  • Thank you for organizing a very good school…Please do the same next time” Patrick Shaw Stewart (Douglas Instruments).

  • I just wanted to thank you for organising this year’s ISBC meeting. It was a fantastic event with great speakers. It was also a pleasure to have met you all and I look forward to the next meeting!” (Ali Abdul-Gader, Molecular Dimensions).

  • I still want to thank you and all your team for the great school: great from the scientific, social and weather aspect!!!” (Marianna Biadene, Medical University of Innsbruck).

  • Congratulations, very nice workshop & school thanks for the possibility to join and all hospitality!!” (Christian Betzel, University of Hamburg).




Figure 10. Top: Opinion of the delegates about the quality of the scientific programme; Middle: Opinion of the delegates about the quality of the presentations; Bottom: Opinion of the participants about the quality of the demonstrations fair.




Figure 11. Top: Opinion of the delegates about their expectations for the School; Middle: Opinion of the delegates about the location and venue; Bottom: Opinion of the participants about the duration of the course.


There was a general feeling among the participants that the School had been very valuable partly because of the quality of the programme and partly due to the contribution of some of the best lecturers for the wide range of topics covered.

 All in all, the ISBC2013 was an enriching experience for all of those involved triggering several fruitful scientific discussions. The positive approach, the openness and active participation of each of the participants made it a wonderful experience worthwhile to be repeated in the future.

 Finally, we would like to express our gratitude to all of the participants; to the teachers for their full commitment and to the students and colleagues from academic and industrial background for believing in these Crystallization Schools. We also wish to express our heartfelt thanks to the Members of the Organizing Committee for their substantial contributions to the Schools. We are very grateful to all the people who have worked very hard in preparing the Schools to make it successful. Last but not least, we would also like to express our special gratitude to the Sponsors and Exhibitors for their great support.

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