Researchers open door to improved understanding of crystal growth

Crystals are everywhere and we encounter them in all areas of life, from industry (the zeolites used in the heterogeneous catalysis industry) to nature (snowflakes).

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Yet while we are surrounded by crystals, it’s so far proven difficult to develop a model that allows us to understand the growth of more than one crystal system at a time. This is because of the sheer variety and complexity of the different systems.

New insight

But a new paper in the journal Nature reveals that progress has been made in understanding and predicting crystal growth. Led by University of Manchester’s Professor of Materials Chemistry Michael Anderson, the paper takes a look at how new microscopic techniques are providing fresh information about the growth of crystals. Armed with this newfound insight, scientists have the chance to apply this knowledge to improving how crystals are used in industry.

Based on the Monte Carlo simulation, the team came up with potentially extendable computer algorithms that help scientists gain a greater understanding of how the particular crystalline system they specialise in is behaving. With this insight, scientists will be able to control the crystal habit and size, and to either eliminate or incorporate defects to its structure.

Real-world application

In the real world, this could mean developing better-designed drugs that deliver the medicine to the right part of the body at the correct time, guided by the specific shape or size of the crystal. It could also help scientists treating diseases of which crystals are a central component, such as malaria.

And in industry, an improved understanding and prediction of crystal growth could help scientists coming up with ways to reduce carbon emissions, by allowing them to develop materials that trap carbon dioxide.

Read Prof Anderson’s blog discussing his research on The Hub, or read the paper in full here.

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