Laser Induced Crystallization: A Short Story About the Unique Phenomenon

What do you know about lasers? I’m quite sure that you heard enough about them to list their several applications. But did you know laser light can also manipulate a liquid? This topic is connected with my doctoral research, which in general aims to create potential applications of photonic vortices. Very strange name, but the phenomenon is quite simple – laser light directed on dyed liquids creates specific movements of streams of the liquid. So far, we found those extremely interesting applications: transporting of micro-objects in the liquid (you can catch extremely small object into the vortex and transport it!) and creating and delivering gas bubbles in the liquid (yes, they are also small, and yes – it works more or less like tweezers). But my attention is focused on Laser Induced Crystallization (LIC). What is it and why does it matter? Let me explain.

Basically, crystallization involves nucleation followed by crystal growth. The first cannot be seen by eye or by microscope, but the second – crystallization – just the opposite! Think about clear liquid honey (before crystallization) and cloudy honey (there are a lot of crystals inside it, so it crystallized). Conventional ways of crystallizing compounds used by scientists in labs involves preparation of highly concentrated solution and precision in temperature control. There are of course some pros and cons, but technology develops fast and why shouldn’t we use it?

Laser Induced Crystallization is a process, in which laser light helps to create ideal conditions for nucleation and crystal growth. We can manipulate both liquid and dye molecules, which colours liquid, using just the laser beam!

Generally, laser light can act as a force which gathers those molecules in the spot. When a lot of molecules are in the spot – the probability of nucleation increases. Why do we need nucleation in this case? It is the first and a necessary step to start growing a crystal. There are many examples of chemical compounds that can be “cultivated” this way. A very interesting fact is that LIC may be useful if we are dealing with compounds which so far have proven to be difficult to crystallize. What is more important, by the use of LIC we control crystal size and its quality – I will now explain why this is important.

There are many examples of compounds crystallized by using this laser technique – for instance peptides and proteins. The latter play a great role in all living organisms and viruses. Proteins have significant functions in our bodies, including regulation of the progress of biochemical processes or production and transmission of nerve impulses. The list of their functions is vast.

The crux of my argument is that scientists – for instance studying neurodegenerative diseases (diseases including Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s) – need effective methods for growing crystals of biomolecules. They first analyze the compound, and subsequently study the influence of crystal structure or other parameters on function of living cells. This requires a look from a broader perspective, but Laser Induced Crystallization may solve the problem of biomolecule crystal acquisition. And that’s the reason why I’m carrying out this research. It’s all about development and expanding our limits.

About the Author

Klaudia DradrachKlaudia Dradrach: I am a PhD student at Wrocław University of Science and Technology. During my PhD studies I have had the opportunity to work on very attractive interdisciplinary topic and to work with brilliant scientists. I was a scholar of program“Bionanomaterials”, I took part in a short scientific internship in University of Leeds. I am involved in the life of two Scientific Societies on WUST. I am a co-author of 4 papers, 2 patents and a large number of conference reports. I am devoted to science and popularizing it. And I would like to continue my work and become a scientist.

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