Simulating micrometre-scale crystal growth from solution
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Originally published by Nature Publishing Group and available at http://www.nature.com/index.html
Understanding crystal growth is essential for controlling the crystallization used in industrial separation and purification processes. Because solids interact through their surfaces, crystal shape can influence both chemical and physical properties1. The thermodynamic morphology can readily be predicted2, but most particle shapes are actually controlled by the kinetics of the atomic growth processes through which assembly occurs3. Here we study the urea-solvent interface at the nanometre scale and report kinetic Monte Carlo simulations of the micrometre-scale threedimensional growth of urea crystals. These simulations accurately reproduce experimentally observed crystal growth. Unlike previous models of crystal growth4-6, no assumption is made that the morphology can be constructed from the results for independently growing surfaces or from an a priori specification of surface defect concentration. This approach offers insights into the role of the solvent, the degree of supersaturation, and the contribution that extended defects (such as screw dislocations) make to crystal growth. It also connects observations made at the nanometre scale, through in situ atomic force microscopy, with those made at the macroscopic level. If extended to include additives, the technique could lead to the computer aided design of crystals.
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