Amino Acids: The Exposed Beauty of Life’s Building Blocks.

As part of my University of Utah’s Crocker Science Center Public Art proposal, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could crystalize amino acids and, if so, would the crystals be birefringent, meaning will they display color when applying polarized light.

This started my quest to learn more about amino acids, how many there are, how to get them into solution form and then what needs to be done to make them grow crystals.

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Without them, you just couldn’t function and would cease to exist.

Glycine Micro-Crystals - Amino Acids

Amino Acid Glycine Micro-Crystals

There are 22 main amino acids. They are broken into three groups: essential, conditionally essential and non-essential. Essential amino acids are ones which your body does not make and therefore need to be acquired by the food you eat. Conditionally essential amino acids are ones which your body can synthesize but only marginally and therefore you may need to supplement through your food intake. Non-essential amino acids are ones which your body can synthesize enough for your needs. In addition, many of the amino acids have multiple configurations which is beyond my chemistry understanding other than to realize it can be a pretty complex subject for a layman.

L-Lysine Amino Acid Micro-Crystals by Carol Roullard Art

Amino Acid L-Lysine Micro-Crystals

I started acquiring amino acids. First I had to make sure the chemicals originated from reliable sources. Can’t just use anything that is labeled a specific amino acid. I looked for reliable manufacturers.

Then I had to research how best to bring that chemical into solution and from there, how best to get the solution to crystalize. Not all of the amino acids I had would go into solution. And of those that did, not all would grow crystals. And then of those that grew crystals, not all of them were photogenic. Eventually I was able to crystalize five different amino acids: L-Leucine, L-Tyrosine (picture below title of post above), Glycine, L-Lysine, and L-Cysteine. I was amazed by how different the crystals came out.

I couldn’t get all of the 22 amino acids so I still have an open goal to acquire the rest and try to crystalize them.


Carol Roullard
Artist, Carol Roullard Art
Designer, Crystal Art Outfitters

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2 Comments on "Amino Acids: The Exposed Beauty of Life’s Building Blocks."

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Katy Zappala

Really interesting, Carol! Thanks, Katy


Hi Carol,
Beautiful pictures! Such vibrant colors. It’s amazing those are amino acid crystals. I loved the science info too, I didn’t know that about amino acids.