A research team from The University of Tokyo in Japan was able to capture an accurate video of the process of creating crystals from a concentrated common salt solution, in a precedent that is the first of its kind, which could help in the future to develop a more accurate understanding of the process of crystal formation, and thus to adapt it to several services.
The magic of microscopy
To reach the results of that study, which was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and announced by the university in an official statement on January 22, the scientists used an electronic microscopic technique called “SMART-EM”, during which it can capture images with atomic precision while the process itself is taking place.
On the other hand, the researchers of this team used the carbon nanotubes they had previously devised to fix a very small sample of the solution, then force it to start the crystallization process.
It should be noted that crystallization is a physical process and not a chemical one, meaning that it does not include a change in the nature of the substance, but only in its structure. One of the most famous examples here is ice crystals, which are made of water droplets, but their formation does not include the transformation of water into another molecule, so it is still the same water.
According to the new study, this team used “Smart-EM” technology to capture images during the salt crystallization process at a rate of 25 images per second, within more than 130 seconds, which enabled them to monitor 9 cycles during which particles collected to make a salt crystal each time.
Despite the great progress made by scientists in the past in understanding many aspects of the crystallization process, the moment of its emergence was always one of the great secrets of this scale, and at this point the importance of this new research emerges, because understanding this process will consequently affect the ability to control it.
According to their study, the University of Tokyo team was able, after examining the process of emergence of these tiny salt crystals, in terms of controlling the size and speed of formation of the crystals, but despite this, it is still a primitive model, as the salt crystallizes in only one way.
As for some other types of particles, such as carbon, they can crystallize in two ways. Either they lead to the formation of graphite or diamond, and no one has yet seen the first stages of this very complex type of crystal formation.
The team hopes that their study will provide the first step in a broader and deeper understanding of the mechanism of formation and diversity of crystals of this latter type, which could help in the future in the development of various ranges from pharmaceutical industry to energy.
Source: Australian Press.