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

Apr 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: Refocusing research into high-temperature superconductors

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Suspend the crystals, and they grow better

Dec 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

Feb 19, 2013

(Phys.org)—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 ...

Recommended for you

Refocusing research into high-temperature superconductors

8 hours ago

Below a specific transition temperature superconductors transmit electrical current nearly loss-free. For the best of the so-called high-temperature superconductors, this temperature lies around -180 °C – a temperature ...

MRI for a quantum simulation

13 hours ago

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which is the medical application of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, is a powerful diagnostic tool. MRI works by resonantly exciting hydrogen atoms and measuring ...

50-foot-wide Muon g-2 electromagnet installed at Fermilab

13 hours ago

One year ago, the 50-foot-wide Muon g-2 electromagnet arrived at the U.S. Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois after traveling 3,200 miles over land and sea from Long Island, ...

User comments : 0