Can molecular flexibility control crystallization? The case of para substituted benzoic acids

Sin Kim Tang, Roger J. Davey, Pietro Sacchi, Aurora J. Cruz-cabeza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite the technological importance of crystallization from solutions almost nothing is known about the relationship between the kinetic process of nucleation and the molecular and crystal structures of a crystallizing solute. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our attempts to understand the behavior of increasingly large, flexible molecules developed as active components in the pharmaceutical arena. In our current contribution we develop a general protocol involving a combination of computation (conformation analysis, lattice energy), and experiment (measurement of nucleation rates), and show how significant advances can be made. We present the first systematic study aimed at quantifying the impact of molecular flexibility on nucleation kinetics. The nucleation rates of 4 para substituted benzoic acids are compared, two of which have substituents with flexible chains. In making this comparison, the importance of normalizing data to account for differing solubilities is highlighted. These data have allowed us to go beyond popular qualitative descriptors such ‘crystallizability’ or ‘crystallization propensity’ in favour of more precise nucleation rate data. Overall, this leads to definite conclusions as to the relative importance of solution chemistry, solid-state interactions and conformational flexibility in the crystallization of these molecules and confirms the key role of intermolecular stacking interactions in determining relative nucleation rates. In a more general sense, conclusions are drawn as to conditions under which conformational change may become rate determining during a crystallization process.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)993-1000
JournalChemical Science
Issue number3
Early online date16 Nov 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Nov 2020


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