Dr Olga Kennard (OBE, FRS) has passed away on 2nd March 2023 at the age of 98. Olga made enormous contributions to crystallography, and science more generally, through the establishment of the Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre and her involvement in the founding of other databases such as the Protein Data Bank. Olga was a key member of the international crystallographic community, and served as president of the European Crystallographic Committee, the precursor to the European Crystallographic Association, from 1975 – 1981.
Olga was born in Budapest, Hungary, and lived there until two weeks before the onset of war when she moved to England. Science was the one constant in her life and she pursued her studies at Newnham College, Cambridge. From there she went on to work as Max Perutz’s assistant, co-authoring an early publication on the structure of haemoglobin in 1947. Olga’s career then took her to the National Institute for Medical Research, before she returned to Cambridge in 1961 to set up a crystallography unit at the University’s chemistry department.¹
Her work with J.D. Bernal and her involvement in the IUCr Commission on Crystallographic Data led Olga to found the Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre (CCDC) in 1965, and she was involved in the establishment of the Protein Data Bank and the Nucleic Acid Sequence Database shortly thereafter. The beginnings of the Cambridge Structural Database (CSD) were established to fulfil the vision that “the collective use of data would lead to the discovery of knew knowledge, which transcends the results of individual experiments.”² This led to the creation of one of the first numerical scientific databases to begin operations anywhere in the world, providing a foundation for modern crystallography. Olga remained Director of the CCDC until her retirement in 1997, overseeing the growth of the CSD to almost 200,000 structures and the establishment of the Centre in its own building. Now containing over 1.2 million structures, it is an essential resource for chemists, materials scientists, and pharmaceutical companies for the design and prediction of crystal structures and the development of materials and pharmaceuticals.
Olga was also a prominent and active member of the crystallographic community. She was a Founder Member of the British Crystallographic Association (BCA) and the UK’s representative to the European Crystallographic Committee (ECC) at the 1st European Crystallographic Meeting in Bordeaux in 1973. In 1975 she was elected President and remembering this election, Olga said:
“Incidentally, I well remember having to leave the room while the selection was discussed and being told on my return that some people had objected because they wanted a strong man as President. They were assured that they got one!”
The main objective of the ECC at this time was to coordinate the European Crystallographic Meetings with each country retaining, to use Olga’s words, “its national identity, and organising the meeting in its own style and tradition so that the ECMs benefitted from the rich cultural variety of Europe“, a legacy which has certainly been achieved by this community.³
Olga’s numerous recognitions are a testament to her contribution to science; she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, awarded an OBE, elected a member of the Academia Europaea, won the Gmelin-Beilstein Memorial Medal, the twelfth Ewald Prize, and most recently the Gregori Aminoff Prize.
Olga was a true visionary, and her efforts have shaped the way crystallography has evolved over the last half century. She will be sorely missed in our community and our thoughts are with Dr Kennard’s family and friends at this time.
Photograph courtesy of CCDC
A longer obituary can be found on CCDC’s website
- Olga Kennard, 1997, “From Private Data to Public Knowledge”
- A. Authier, The birth of the ECC and of the ECMs, Acta Cryst., 2010, A66, 1-4, DOI: 0.1107/S0108767309041853