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We’ve discovered a strange twist in the story of how crystals form


Scientist

We’ve discovered a strange twist in the story of how crystals form

By Joshua Howgego Twisted crystals of paracetamolAlexander ShtukenbergA chance discovery in an old German book may have overturned our understanding of how crystals grow. The defining feature of a crystal is that it is composed of a pattern of atoms that repeats in all directions with perfect symmetry. This neat structure makes it possible to…

We’ve discovered a strange twist in the story of how crystals form

By Joshua Howgego

Twisted crystals of paracetamol

Twisted crystals of paracetamol

Alexander Shtukenberg

A chance discovery in an old German book may have overturned our understanding of how crystals grow.

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The defining feature of a crystal is that it is composed of a pattern of atoms that repeats in all directions with perfect symmetry. This neat structure makes it possible to diffract X-rays through crystals to reveal the pattern inside – a technique instrumental in understanding the atomic structure of many important drugs, like penicillin.

But X-ray diffraction is very difficult to apply to small crystals — and as a result we have long been unsure of what …

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