The formation of crystals starts with nucleation and control of nucleation is crucial for the control of the number, size, perfection, polymorph modification and other characteristics of the crystalline population. Recently, there have been significant advances in the understanding of the mechanism of nucleation of crystals in solution. The most significant of these is the two-step mechanism of nucleation, according to which the crystalline nucleus appears inside pre-existing metastable clusters of size several hundred nanometers, which consist of dense liquid and are suspended in the solution. While initially proposed for protein crystals, the applicability of this mechanism has been demonstrated for small-molecule organic and inorganic materials, colloids, and biominerals. This mechanism helps to explain several long-standing puzzles of crystal nucleation in solution: nucleation rates which are many orders of magnitude lower than theoretical predictions, nucleation kinetic dependencies with steady or receding parts at increasing supersaturation, the role of heterogeneous substrates for polymorph selection, the significance of the dense protein liquid, and others. More importantly, this mechanism provides powerful tools for control of the nucleation process by varying the solution thermodynamic parameters so that the volume occupied by the dense liquid shrinks or expands.
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