Polar Imperfections in Amino Acid Crystals: Design, Structure, and Emerging Functionalities: Design, Structure, and Emerging Functionalities

Elena Meirzadeh, Isabelle Weissbuch, David Ehre, Meir Lahav, Igor Lubomirsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Crystals are physical arrays delineated by polar surfaces and often contain imperfections of a polar nature. Understanding the structure of such defects on the molecular level is of topical importance since they strongly affect the macroscopic properties of materials. Moreover, polar imperfections in crystals can be created intentionally and specifically designed by doping nonpolar crystals with “tailor-made” additives as dopants, since their incorporation generally takes place in a polar mode. Insertion of dopants also induces a polar deformation of neighboring host molecules, resulting in the creation of polar domains within the crystals. The contribution of the distorted host molecules to the polarity of such domains should be substantial, particularly in crystals composed of molecules with large dipole moments, such as the zwitterionic amino acids, which possess dipole moments as high as ∼14 D. Polar materials are pyroelectric, i.e., they generate surface charge as a result of temperature change. With the application of recent very sensitive instruments for measuring electric currents, coupled with theoretical computations, it has become possible to determine the structure of polar imperfections, including surfaces, at a molecular level. The detection of pyroelectricity requires attachment of electrodes, which might induce various artifacts and modify the surface of the crystal. Therefore, a new method for contactless pyroelectric measurement using X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy was developed and compared to the traditional periodic temperature change technique. Here we describe the molecular-level determination of the structure of imperfections of different natures in molecular crystals and how they affect the macroscopic properties of the crystals, with the following specific examples: (i) Experimental support for the nonclassical crystal growth mechanism as provided by the detection of pyroelectricity from near-surface solvated polar layers present at different faces of nonpolar amino acid crystals. (ii) Enantiomeric disorder in dl-alanine crystals disclosed by detection of anomalously strong pyroelectricity along their nonpolar directions. The presence of such disorder, which is not revealed by accurate diffraction techniques, explains the riddle of their needlelike morphology. (iii) The design of mixed polar crystals of l-asparagine·H2O/l-aspartic acid with controlled degrees of polarity, as determined by pyroelectricity and X-ray diffraction, and their use in mechanistic studies of electrofreezing of supercooled water. (iv) Pyroelectricity coupled with dispersion-corrected density functional theory calculations and molecular dynamics simulations as an analytical method for the molecular-level determination of the structure of polar domains created by doping of α-glycine crystals with different l-amino acids at concentrations below 0.5%. (v) Selective insertion of minute amounts of alcohols within the bulk of α-glycine crystals, elucidating their role as inducers of the metastable β-glycine polymorph. In conclusion, the various examples demonstrate that although these imperfections are present in minute amounts, they can be detected by the sensitive pyroelectric measurement, and by combining them with theoretical computations one can elucidate their diverse emerging functionalities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1238-1248
Number of pages11
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number5
Early online date20 Apr 2018
StatePublished - 15 May 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry


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