Large single crystals with desirable shapes are essential for various scientific and industrial fields, such as X-ray/neutron crystallography and crystalline devices. However, in the case of proteins the production of such crystals is particularly challenging, despite the efforts devoted to optimization of the environmental, chemical and physical parameters. Here we report an innovative approach for promoting the growth of protein crystals by directly modifying the local crystal structure via femtosecond laser ablation. We demonstrate that protein crystals with surfaces that are locally etched (several micrometers in diameter) by femtosecond laser ablation show enhanced growth rates without losing crystal quality. Optical phase-sensitive microscopy and X-ray topography imaging techniques reveal that the local etching induces spiral growth, which is energetically advantageous compared with the spontaneous two-dimensional nucleation growth mode. These findings prove that femtosecond laser ablation can actively switch the crystal growth mode, offering flexible control over the size and shape of protein crystals.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
- Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics