The artistic work of a scientist at the Cullen College of Engineering has been recognized with a third place finish in the British Association for Crystal Growth's 2020 Crystal in Art competition.
Rajshree Chakrabarti, a graduate student in the Chemical and Biochemical Engineering Department, was honored for her submission, “Colour of Life,” which showcases Protoporphyrin IX. Her adviser is Dr. Peter Vekilov, the John and Rebecca Moores Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Chemistry.
“I saw these crystals of Protoporphyrin IX using a scanning electron microscope,” she said, describing how she created the image. “Usually a crystal should have well defined faces and shape, but since I did very fast crystallization, these defective crystals of Protoporphyrin IX formed. I was amazed to see these defective but unique crystals. Usually, we see black and white images in the scanning electron microscope. For the competition, Dr. Vekilov suggested that I color my crystals, and I thought of using the cougar red color of the University of Houston.”
Chakrabarti said that she keeps up with developments in her field, and as a result, she follows the BACG and the Cambridge Crystallographic Database on Twitter.
“Apart from research, I am interested in art, and crystallography is an art from,” she said. “Crystals of different shapes and sizes result from the way they are crystallized. So when I saw this competition on Twitter from the BACG, I submitted my entry.”
Chakrabarti noted that competitions like these can help to deepen the connections between art and science, and encourage development in both fields.
“I have always been interested in art and I like to take part in competitions,” she said. “Overall, I realized during my PhD that crystallization is a form of art. The University of Houston is a top tier research university, and the research we do in Dr. Vekilov’s lab has a broader impact on society. We work on understanding the fundamentals of crystallization. Crystallization techniques are used extensively in the separation and purification of specialty chemicals like active pharmaceutical ingredients, catalysts and molecules, which in crystalline form are used in electronic and optical devices.”
The BAGC received 49 submissions for this year's contest. To see other entrants, visit the organization's website.