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: Suspend the crystals, and they grow better

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

(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 and the USA, are ...

Recommended for you

Scientists accelerate airflow in mid-air

August 21, 2017

When a fan blows air across a room, the airflow typically decelerates and spreads out. Now in a new study, scientists have demonstrated the opposite: an airflow created by a carefully controlled ultrasound array can maintain ...

3-D particle tracking? There's an app for that

August 21, 2017

Using four low-cost smartphone cameras and some simple colored backlighting, KAUST researchers have dispensed with expensive research-grade camera equipment and dangerous lasers to construct a tomographic particle image velocimetry ...

Nanomaterial wrap for improved tissue imaging

August 21, 2017

Researchers at Tokai University describe in Advanced Materials how wrapping biological tissue in a nanosheet of a particular organic material results in high-quality microscopy images. Application of the wrap prevents the ...

New bioimaging technique is fast and economical

August 18, 2017

A new approach to optical imaging makes it possible to quickly and economically monitor multiple molecular interactions in a large area of living tissue—such as an organ or a small animal; technology that could have applications ...

0 comments

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.