University of Houston engineering researcher's theories to be tested in space

April 11, 2013

A University of Houston chemical and biomolecular engineering professor's theories on crystal formation will be tested aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Professor Peter Vekilov received a grant from NASA to study how proteins in a nucleate, or form crystals. While researchers understand how crystals grow, they want to know more about how they transform from liquid to crystal.

Vekilov discovered in 2004 that before forming a crystal, proteins in a solution come together in dense droplets, where they possibly begin to unfold into the shape they have when crystalized.

His theory was proved through three years later, but there is still much about this phenomenon that is not understood. For example, crystallization processes that work well in a small volume of solution often do not work at all when scaled up to industrial-size levels of 100 or 1,000 liters – the amounts used to produce medicines, chemicals and other products.

Vekilov believes this is largely due to sheer flow, meaning the uneven flow of liquid in a system, such as a river. But he cannot effectively test his theory on earth because gravity affects sheer flow.

awarded Vekilov a grant of nearly $100,000 to further his research in space.

"We have relevant scientific questions that can only be answered by doing experiments in space. We hope to see a difference between the nucleation rate on earth and in space," Vekilov said.

His experiments will be performed by astronauts affiliated with the , most likely in 2016. Meanwhile, Vekilov and his European collaborators will build instrumentation and conduct additional research on nucleation and sheer flow to gather data and develop better models of the process.

Vekilov hopes to develop a deep understanding of sheer flow's impact on protein crystal nucleation, which can be used to design small-scale experiments that mirror the sheer flow in industrial-scale crystal production. As a result, it will be easier to scale up lab work to large volumes.

Explore further: First-class protein crystals thanks to weightlessness on earth

Related Stories

Suspend the crystals, and they grow better

December 22, 2012

The idea is so simple you wonder why no one thought of it before.Crystals growing near the bottom of a beaker are subject to convection,but it is much quieter near the top of the beaker.In that case, why not just let them ...

Theory of crystal formation complete again

February 19, 2013

(—Exactly how a crystal forms from solution is a problem that has occupied scientists for decades. Researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), together with researchers from Germany and the USA, are ...

Recommended for you

Scientists float new approach to creating computer memory

October 8, 2015

What can skyrmions do for you? These ghostly quantum rings, heretofore glimpsed only under extreme laboratory conditions, just might be the basis for a new type of computer memory that never loses its grip on the data it ...

Fusion reactors 'economically viable' say experts

October 2, 2015

Fusion reactors could become an economically viable means of generating electricity within a few decades, and policy makers should start planning to build them as a replacement for conventional nuclear power stations, according ...

Perfectly accurate clocks turn out to be impossible

October 7, 2015

Can the passage of time be measured precisely, always and everywhere? The answer will upset many watchmakers. A team of physicists from the universities of Warsaw and Nottingham have just shown that when we are dealing with ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.