The revelation of the secret of imperfect crystals as a challenge for Lukáš Palatinus

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Crystals are as a construction set. They are made up from tiny building blocks which often are molecules. Lukáš Palatinus is able to determine what molecules look like and how they are put together in a crystal. He can thus create new models of crystal structures. An imperfect crystal, which is characterised by errors and inaccuracies in the cube structure, is another scientific challenge for Lukáš Palatinus.

The prestigious EXPRO grant that he was awarded for the research in the area of nanocrystallography of molecular crystals by the Czech Science Foundation means joy, responsibility and mainly the continuity of basic research for him which will significantly facilitate the development of new medicine and metal alloys.

Thanks to the generous grant, Lukáš Palatinus’ team can devote the following five years to the improvement of the method which is used in a number of fields of chemistry and structural biology. If the studied material offers only nano- or micro-crystals, the structural analysis of molecular crystals has been limited so far. The best method for studying such materials is electron diffraction, but this method also suffers from a number of limitations, such as low accuracy of lattice parameters, difficulties with the accuracy of obtained structural models or inability to reliably determine the absolute structure of chiral substances, which is related to the exact spatial arrangement of atoms in molecules.

The main research topics of the team will be lattice parameters, description of imperfect crystals and determination of absolute structure. The results of the research should remove the current limitations of the method by creating a set of tools, methods and programs and setting new standards in the field. If all goes well, with the help of the results of this project, electron crystallography of molecular crystals should be transformed into a generally accepted and commonly used method of first choice for the analysis of nano- and microcrystalline molecular materials.

Considering their scientific success, it is very likely that the physicists will be able to meet the goals of this ambitious project.  "In some areas of electron crystallography, we can say that we are at the forefront and our methods are unique," Palatinus admits hesitantly, but immediately adds that he does not like bombastic statements.

However, when Lukáš Palatinus and his colleagues detected a weak signal of hydrogen atoms in a crystal in 2016 using electron diffraction and subsequent computational procedures, he managed to prove the accuracy and potential of his method and his success reached the front page of Science.

Moreover, there are only a few laboratories in the world that would be able to determine the details of a molecule as in the laboratory of Lukáš Palatinus, and that is why his research finds application in the commercial sphere as well. Molecules that are studied in the laboratory include drugs, where atoms and their arrangement determine the chemical properties of the molecule and the way in which the drug will interact with pathogens in the body and its solubility.

Aesthetics is an important motivation for me, it is a useful compass. When something looks weird, it often is weird. Aesthetics is elegance.

Lukáš Palatinus