Tribute to Dr. Olga Kennard

03/09 wwPDB News

The wwPDB consortium would like to pay tribute to Dr. Olga Kennard OBE FRS upon the sad news of her passing. Her pioneering work on the development of crystallographic databases laid the groundwork for modern molecular structure data archiving and the subsequent scientific breakthroughs that have made use of these data.

Olga was renowned for establishing the CCDC (Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre) to maintain the Cambridge Structural Database (CSD) for small molecules. The CSD was first established by Olga in 1965, based on activities in her research group and has become the world’s repository for small-molecule organic and metal-organic crystal structures. Olga collected these data so that she could study how crystals form and her surveys were fundamental in the development of “crystal engineering”. Now containing over one million structures from X-ray and neutron diffraction analyses, this database of accurate 3D structures has become an essential resource to scientists around the world.

The increased interest and breakthroughs in solving biological molecular structures lead to the founding of the PDB (Protein Data Bank) by Walter Hamilton at BNL (Brookhaven National Laboratory). Olga worked with Walter to support the foundation of the PDB archive, with the archive initially operated jointly between BNL and CCDC (see the 1971 PDB announcement in Nature New Biology). While data processing was carried out at BNL, CCDC was responsible for organization of the data archive, with Olga and CCDC’s experience in data archiving hugely beneficial. Nowadays, the small molecules contained in biological structures archived in the PDB are validated using CCDC software which incorporates the knowledge embedded in the CSD.

<I>Left to right: Helen M. Berman, Janet Thornton, Shoshana Wodak, and Olga Kennard at the PDB-SwissProt Symposium in Jerusalem in 1996.</I>Left to right: Helen M. Berman, Janet Thornton, Shoshana Wodak, and Olga Kennard at the PDB-SwissProt Symposium in Jerusalem in 1996.

Olga was a person of great integrity and drive and, in an age before computers had really developed, she saw the value of cross-data analysis to derive principles governing how small molecules interact. Very few scientists can claim that their work has enabled thousands of papers and investigations. Olga’s foresight and determination to establish and maintain the CSD means she is among those giants on whose shoulders many other scientists stand.

See also Celebrating Dr Olga Kennard OBE FRS, Founder of the Cambridge Structural Database, 1924 – 2023 at CCDC