Jason Hein captured these ballooning crystals under a microscope in real-time. Molecules of sodium ammonium tartrate precipitate out of this solution fast enough and form big enough crystals—10 to 100 µm long—for him to see with an optical microscope. Hein, a professor at the University of British Columbia, was capturing these crystals’ growth as part of his lab’s larger project to automate organic chemistry processes. In this case the lab plans to use computer vision to track the progress of crystallization. Separately, sodium ammonium tartrate is a special compound in the history of chemistry: because its large asymmetric crystals are so big, Louis Pasteur was able to study them and manually separate them based on their handedness, similar to the mirror-image difference that distinguish right and left hands. That experiment that led him to discover molecular chirality 1848.
Submitted by Jason Hein
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