Crystal formation is key to fields as disparate as drug design, biomedical diagnostics and petrochemical production, but significant questions remain about how that formation begins in the presence of soft materials. A chemical engineer from the University of Houston has received a $500,000 CAREER award from the National Science Foundation to increase understanding of crystal nucleation within polymers and other soft materials.
Jeremy Palmer, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, uses computational methods to study the early stages of crystal formation, before the process can be viewed experimentally.
_The formation can take time, and small crystalline clusters that form within liquids don’t always grow into full-fledged crystals. Experiments show, however, that the presence of other materials such as polymers and proteins can change the likelihood of crystallization occurring. _
“We don’t fully understand how the presence of soft materials influences crystallization,” Palmer said. A better understanding and the ability to control the crystallization process could prove helpful in all sorts of areas, including biological systems, pharmaceutical formulations, water and wastewater treatment plants, he said.