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April 17th, 2006
The porous, sieve-like minerals known as zeolites have been used for decades in purifiers, filters and other devices. Yet creating and refining a new type of zeolite is still a matter of sophisticated trial and error: no one has been able to figure out exactly how the crystals form, even in the laboratory.
Now, however, a team of chemists, engineers and mathematicians, using some of the most advanced microscopes in the research arsenal, has uncovered new details for the step-by-step evolution from molecular soup to carefully engineered zeolite crystal. With this knowledge, laboratories may be able to use targeted methods to create zeolites with precisely the crystal sizes and shapes demanded by molecule-specific applications such as chemical sensing.
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