Czech scientists make cover of Science with nanocrystals research

Czech scientists have made the cover of the prestigious Science magazine with their discovery of a unique method determining the structure of nanocrystals. The new findings can have an important impact on scientific fields such as pharmaceuticals, synthetic chemistry, or the development of new materials. Lukáš Palatinus of the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences, who was the head of the research team, told me more about the discovery:

Lukáš Palatinus,  photo: archive of Lukáš Palatinus
“The discovery concerns a scientific discipline called crystallography, which successfully tries to determine the atomic structure of crystalline materials. Knowing the atomic structure is extremely important because it determines the properties of every crystalline material.

“We concentrated on determining crystal structures from nanocrystals, which are very small crystals. And why is this important?

“Methods to determine crystal structures from large crystals, larger than 10 or 20 micrometres, are well established. But many materials do not form such large crystals and in such cases, when only micro or nanocrystals are available, it has been very difficult so far to determine the crystal structure.

“We used scattering of electrons in the nanocrystals using electron microscope, to determine atomic structures of nanocrystals with such sensitivity, that we can detect all atoms in the periodic table, including the lightest of all, and that is hydrogen.”

What will be the practical outcome of your research?

“I think that the importance of this research and the reason why it was featured in Science is simply the fact that its potential impact is very broad.

“To name just a few fields where materials forming only nanocrystals are important, it is pharmaceuticals, the preparation of new drugs, or geosciences, the investigation of processes in Earth or synthetic chemistry, the preparation of new catalysts which are materials used for more efficient preparation of materials in chemical industry.

“So these are just a few examples where crystallography is very important and where our discovery will probably help in doing work faster and more efficiently.”

As you have already said, your discovery is featured on the front page of the American Science magazine. How important is it for you and for your future research?

“The fact that it was published in Science is definitely a great success but it is not our goal. The goal of the research is to bring the method to as many people as possible so that they can use it. The fact that it appears on the cover of Science will definitely help a lot in making people aware of this research.”