Tables for
Volume H
Powder diffraction
Edited by C. J. Gilmore, J. A. Kaduk and H. Schenk

International Tables for Crystallography (2018). Vol. H, ch. 2.7, pp. 156-157

Section 2.7.2. Historical perspective

A. Katrusiaka*

aFaculty of Chemistry, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland
Correspondence e-mail:

2.7.2. Historical perspective

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The earliest concepts of pressure are often associated with Evangelista Torricelli's famous statement `Noi viviamo sommersi nel fondo d'un pelago d'aria' (`We live submerged at the bottom of an ocean of air') in 1643, Otto von Guericke's experiment pitting the force of six horses against atmospheric pressure acting to squeeze together two hemispheres evacuated using the vacuum pump he had constructed in Magdeburg in 1654, and Blaise Pascal's measurements of pressure differences at different altitudes and his demonstrations of barrels being blown up by the force of water poured in through a tall pipe. The subsequently developed high-pressure devices were mainly of the piston-and-cylinder type.

At the beginning of the 19th century, pressures of about 400 MPa could be obtained, and at the beginning of the 20th century, often referred to as the end of the pre-Bridgman era, pressures up to about 2 GPa could be achieved. Then Percy W. Bridgman's remarkable inventions extended the pressure range greatly, to over 10 GPa (Bridgman, 1964[link]). He devised new techniques for sealing pressure chambers, developed the opposed-anvils apparatus and introduced methods for the controlled measurement of various phenomena. Moreover, he used his new methods to describe a vast number of observations and properties of matter at high-pressure ranges hitherto unexplored. Bridgman's ingenious designs of high-pressure devices, such as the opposed-anvils apparatus, paved the path for future researchers. His scientific achievements won him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1946.

The Bridgman era in high-pressure research ended in the late 1950s, when the diamond-anvil cell, often abbreviated to DAC, was invented (Weir et al., 1959[link]; Jamieson et al., 1959[link]; Piermarini, 2001[link]). Soon after, the DAC became the main tool of high-pressure researchers; it gradually increased the range of attainable pressure by more than an order of magnitude, and under laboratory conditions it surpassed the pressure level at the centre of the Earth. Most importantly, the DAC allowed many new measuring techniques, particularly X-ray diffraction and optical spectroscopy, to be utilized. Before that, spectroscopic studies were limited to about 0.5 GPa. High-pressure X-ray diffraction, pioneered by Cohen (1933[link]) in Berkeley for powders and by Vereshchagin et al. (1958[link]) in Moscow for a single crystal of halite at 0.4 GPa in a beryllium high-pressure vessel, had been expensive, inefficient and inaccurate.

The DAC has become commonly available because of its low cost and easy operation. Today, the DAC continues to be the main and most versatile piece of laboratory pressure equipment and a record-breaking high-pressure apparatus. However, other sample environments provide complementary means of structural studies. For example, the large-volume press can be advantageous for neutron diffraction studies and in experiments where very stable high-pressure/high-temperature conditions are required. Naturally, the success of many high-pressure methods would not be possible without the development of other sciences and technologies, including computers, powerful sources of X-rays and neutrons and their detectors, and lasers.


Bridgman, P. W. (1964). Collected Experimental Papers, Volumes I–VII. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Cohen, W. M. (1933). X-ray investigations at high pressures. Phys. Rev. 44, 326–327.Google Scholar
Jamieson, J. C., Lawson, A. W. & Nachtrieb, N. D. (1959). New device for obtaining X-ray diffraction patterns from substances exposed to high pressure. Rev. Sci. Instrum. 30, 1016–1019.Google Scholar
Piermarini, G. J. (2001). High pressure X-ray crystallography with the diamond cell at NIST/NBS. J. Res. Natl Inst. Stand. Technol. 106, 889–920.Google Scholar
Vereshchagin, L. F., Kabalkina, S. S. & Evdokimova, V. V. (1958). Kamera dlya rentgenostrukturnykh issledovanii monokristallov pod vysokim davleniem. (A camera for X-ray diffraction studies of single crystals at high pressure). Prib. Tekh. Eksp. 3, 90–92.Google Scholar
Weir, C. E., Lippincott, E. R., Van Valkenburg, A. & Bunting, N. E. (1959). Infrared studies in the 1–15-micron region to 30,000 atmos­pheres. J. Res. Natl Bur. Stand. USA, 63A, 5–62.Google Scholar

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