What does this one-micron sized object look like to you? Despite what Freud would say, that boldly thrusting little guy is a microcrystal, once classified as a powder too tiny to be imaged using X-rays. But a bunch of European X-ray fiends have rigged up a special X-ray diffractor at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and presto — what was once unseeable powder is now a crystal! This discovery means we can see crystals today that are 10 times smaller than ones we could see yesterday.

Knowing the crystalline structure of this chunk of microporous aluminium carboxylate — a crazy-ass hybrid compound of organic and inorganic molecules — is great for future research into things like using special powders to absorb toxic spills, or building flexible glass. But, points out scientist Thierry Loiseau, it will also help tidy up lab cupboards:

Researchers can now bring forward samples left in their cupboards because the sizes had previously prevented their study. Now they will be able to elucidate the structures of these samples, with potentially great scientific advances on the horizon.

Oh, oui, oui! Lavez les laboratoires, mes choux choux scientifiques!Image by T. Loiseau, CNRS 2007.


Unveiling the structure of microcrystals [via Eurekalert]