Beauty of science: psychedelic crystals


This striking pattern shows the reconstructed electron density map obtained from X-ray diffraction data of a liquid crystal at the ESRF’s BM28 beamline – red is the lowest electron density and purple the highest.

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The map can be explained as a repeated pattern or “tiling” of five different kinds of tiles formed from X-shaped molecules and arranged in complex “honeycomb” phases, with different electron densities resulting from different degrees of mixing among side-groups. The work, by researchers at the University of Sheffield in the UK and the University of Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, reveals the remarkable ability of relatively simple molecules to find the optimum solution to the problem of geometric and compositional frustration – namely by forming periodic structures. This, says the team, will expand the capabilities of “bottom-up” methods of nanopatterning for advanced functional materials. (X Zeng et al. 2011 Science 331 1302).



This article originally appeared in ESRFnews, October 2011. 

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