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Analytical Chemistry

Phenylalanine Crystals

No matter how long you’ve been doing chemistry, there are still things that you come across that surprise you. Did you know that plain old L-phenylalanine has been one of the most difficult subjects ever for small-molecule crystallography? I sure didn’t. But people have tried for decades to grow good enough crystals of it to decide what space group it’s in. One big problem has been the presence of several polymorphs (see blog posts here and here), but it looks like the paper linked above has finally straightened things out.

2 comments on “Phenylalanine Crystals”

  1. luysii says:

    Uncanny, that you should mention phenylalanine, as there is a paper out in the current Science which was literally able to ‘watch’ the movement of the electron distribution of phenylalanine in response to absorption of hard ultraviolet radiation. Fairly hairy physics is involved: attosecond pump probe spectroscopy + a lot of calculation to explain the results seen. The work confirms the Born Oppenheimer approximation, because the electrons move before the nuclei do.
    For more see –
    If watching electrons being pushed isn’t nirvana for organic chemists, I don’t know what is

  2. Haftime says:

    it’s probably fair to say there are a lot of things about crystals we don’t yet know – to take an even simpler example – we’re still not completely sure about the structure of FeO, and the first single crystal structure of magnetite (Fe3O4) at low temperature was only solved in 2012.

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