We’ve discovered a strange twist in the story of how crystals form

Twisted crystals of paracetamol

Twisted crystals of paracetamol

Alexander Shtukenberg

A chance discovery in an old German book may have overturned our understanding of how crystals grow.

The defining feature of a crystal is that it is composed of a pattern of atoms that repeats in all directions with perfect symmetry. This neat structure makes it possible to diffract X-rays through crystals to reveal the pattern inside – a technique instrumental in understanding the atomic structure of many important drugs, like penicillin.

But X-ray diffraction is very difficult to apply to small crystals — and as a result we have long been unsure of what …

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