As you indicate in your News Feature 'China's crystal cache' (Nature 457, 953–955; 2009), China and Japan provide most new single crystals for research, and the supply in the United States and Europe is becoming more and more limited. One explanation for this decline is that researchers specializing in single-crystal growth are unable to find laboratories willing to support their work.
Very few places are still prepared to host the long-term, risky endeavours of crystal growers. Of the laboratories where I have worked and grown crystals over the past 30 years, not one is growing crystals today. I started out growing crystals in Poland, but left because, at that time, the country could not afford this expensive research. I quit my work at the University of Konstanz in Germany when the physics department discovered that it was cheaper to buy in crystals from abroad. Then, a few years ago, when I was at Bell Labs in the United States, work there switched from basic research to applications, and an initiative to support a crystal-growth laboratory was rejected by the US Department of Energy.
In the end, I came upon an enthusiasm for crystal growing at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. I have set up a small laboratory at the School of Materials Science and Engineering where I can grow crystals, not necessarily those newly discovered materials that physicists wish to study, but those that I can afford at this time.
I do not lament. I belong to the lucky few who have been privileged to work with excellent physicists and to follow their passion for many years, crystallizing and exploring new materials.
Research administrators should grasp the need for long-term stability in laboratories where crystals are grown and the advantages of maintaining them inside large physics and materials departments and institutes. Crystal growers are still around, but they desperately need laboratories.
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