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Laser control over crystal nucleation

Project description

Exotic light and matter interactions enhance control over crystallisation

Crystals can have all kinds of constituents. Ionic ones make up crystals of salt, molecular ones crystals of sugar and of course all kinds of atoms, molecules, and even peptides and more are crystallised in labs around the world. Controlling the nucleation event that initiates the crystallisation process and creates a small nucleus on which the crystal grows is fundamental to the outcome. The EU-funded CONTROL project will develop the experimental and theoretical foundations to exploit optical tweezers and other exotic light-matter interactions for unprecedented control over the crystals formed. Commercialisation of the novel platform is part of the plan to unleash a new period of innovation supported by controlled crystallisation.


The CONTROL programme I propose here is a five-year programme of frontier research to develop a novel platform for the manipulation of phase transitions, crystal nucleation, and polymorph control based on a novel optical-tweezing technique and plasmonics. About 20 years ago, it was shown that lasers can nucleate crystals in super-saturated solution and might even be able to select the polymorph that crystallises. However, no theoretical model was found explaining the results and little progress was made.

In a recent publication (Nat. Chem. 10, 506 (2018)), we showed that laser-induced nucleation can be understood in terms of the harnessing of concentration fluctuations near a liquid–liquid critical point using optical tweezing. This breakthrough opens the way to a research programme with risky, ambitious, and ground-breaking long-term aims: full control over crystal nucleation including chirality and polymorphism.

New optical and microscopic techniques will be developed to allow laser manipulation on a massively parallel scale and chiral nucleation using twisted light. Systematically characterising and manipulating the phase behaviour of mixtures, will allow the use of the optical-tweezing effect to effectively control the crystallisation of small molecules, peptides, proteins, and polymers. Exploiting nanostructures will allow parallelisation on a vast scale and fine control over chirality and polymorph selection through plasmonic tweezing. Even partial success in the five years of the programme will lead to fundamental new insights and technological breakthroughs. These breakthroughs will be exploited for future commercial applications towards the end of the project.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 2 488 162,00
G12 8QQ Glasgow
United Kingdom

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Scotland West Central Scotland Glasgow City
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 2 488 162,50

Beneficiaries (1)