Crystals aren’t just pretty, they also have many important applications in science! A crystal is a solid material with atoms that are arranged in a rigid, highly ordered geometrical structure. The more ordered a crystal’s structure, the higher the quality of the crystal.
High-quality crystals of organic molecules, such as proteins, can lead to improvements in drug development, formulation, manufacturing, and storage as well as agricultural solutions that better protect crops and enhance plant growth. For inorganic molecules, high-quality crystals can lead to advances in electronics, radiation detection, and metal manufacturing.
In the microgravity environment onboard the International Space Station (ISS), researchers are able to grow crystals that are larger and more well-ordered than crystals grown on Earth. Many researchers, including several from commercial entities, are already using the unique crystallization environment onboard the ISS National Lab to advance their research and development.
To make it easier and more economical for investigators to utilize the ISS National Lab for crystallization research and to enhance the commercialization potential of a crystallization platform in low Earth orbit, the ISS National Lab established a Microgravity Molecular Crystal Growth (MMCG) Program. Learn more about the MMCG program here.
In July, the ISS National Lab held an MMCG workshop that gathered leaders in the crystallography community to discuss progress made and identify future goals of the MMCG program. Additionally, the submission period recently closed for a request for proposals issued to solicit applications directed toward utilization of the ISS National Lab by commercial and academic investigators in the field of molecular crystal growth.
Below, see some of the ways investigators are using the unique microgravity environment of the ISS National Lab to advance their crystallization research and development:
- An investigation by pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. aimed at growing a crystalline suspension of millions of tiny uniform crystals, toward improving the formulation of the company’s cancer immunotherapy drug, Keytruda®
- Studies by pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly & Co. that seek to crystallize proteins for structure-based drug design
- Research from investigators at Oak Ridge National Laboratory aimed at crystallizing the AChE enzyme, toward developing an improved antidote for nerve gas and pesticide poisoning
- An investigation by the Michael J. Fox Foundation to grow crystals of the LRRK2 protein, a key target in identifying the makeup of Parkinson’s disease
- Experiments by researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology and Radiation Monitoring Devices, Inc. to examine the synthesis of semiconductor and scintililator crystals in microgravity for applications aimed at improving radiation detection on Earth