Rationally designed microstructures

The diversity, hierarchy, and complexity of mineralized architectures formed by living organisms seem virtually unlimited.

Microscopic acantharea up to reef building corals are able to precisely control the development of intricate mineral skeletons. Our aim is not so much to reproduce any particular shapes seen in nature, but to get to the root of what kind of physical and chemical principles might allow for such amazing control, and trying to adapt these ideas to design our own complex shapes.

Mineralization processes in living organisms continuously respond to environmental changes such as the temperature, CO2 concentration and acidity. Building on this principle, we dynamically modulate the environmental conditions in a beaker to actively steer mineralizing compounds into deterministic patterns. We have developed a comprehensive model for predicting the evolution of patterns a priori, and have used it to derive sequences of simple, subtle modulations of CO2, pH, and temperature that serve as building strategies for intricate higher-order nano/microarchitectures.

Using continuous and/or stepwise adjustments, we showed that the precipitating reactants can be steered into complex flowers, corals, vases, and messages, with precise control over placement of stems, leaves, etc. via sequential combinatorial assembly of the developing shapes.

Currently, we are further developing a detailed mathematical theory that predicts the emergence of the different shapes along with new experimental strategies that allow an even more precise manipulation of the growth conditions. This more and more refined control over the construction of micro architectures moves towards the control that is required for many practical applications, such as in optical materials, and catalysts.

Publications

Media Coverage

Self-Assembled Micro-Structures by Wim Noorduin, Frame, March 8, 2015. 

Crystal nano flowers and the future of architectural chemistry, The Creators Project, June 2014. 

Complexity from simplicity, Science, May, 2013. 

Harvard researchers grow a garden of nanoscience flowers, Boston Globe, May, 2013. 

Gorgeous, intricate microflowers from mineral chemistry in a beaker, Chemistry & Engineering News, May, 2013. 

Tiny, delicate flowers grown in a beaker help to explain complex structures, Inside Science, May, 2014. 

Sculpting flowers smaller than a human hair, CNET, June , 2014. 

Nanogardens' sprout up on the surface of a penny, National Public Radio, May, 2013. 

Stunning microscopic 'flowers' created by chemical tweaking, WIRED Magazine, May, 2013. 

Nanoflowers grow in tiny garden, Discovery Channel, May, 2013. 

Gorgeous nanocrystal flowers sprout under electron microscope, Wired design, May, 2013. 

Microscopic crystal 'flowers' build themselves in a Harvard lab, NBC News, May, 2013. 

Des fleurs minérales microscopiques
Le Monde, May, 2013. 

These self-assembling nanoflowers are as beautiful as they are tiny, Popular Science, May, 2013. 

These aren’t flowers, Gizmodo, May, 2013. 

Spring has sprung in the lab, Daily Mail, May, 2013. 

Komplexe Strukturen: Blumenwiese aus dem Labor, Ingenieur, May, 2013. 

Microscopic flowers blooming in Harvard’s lab, ABC News, May, 2013. 

How to grow a nanogarden, Smithsonian, May, 2013. 

Tiny crystal flowers bloom in a beaker, CNET, May, 2013. 

Look: Harvard researchers grow a garden at nano-scale, Boston Business Journal, May, 2013. 

Condições ambientais conseguem modelar estruturas minerais, iG, May, 2013. 

Gärtnern in der Mikrowelt, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, May, 2013. 

A rosy start, National Geographic, May, 2013. 

Bloemen kweken op microschaal, NRC, May, 2013. 

Laat duizend kristallen groeien, De Volkskrant, May, 2013. 

Cómo construir un jardín de flores nanoscópicas, Redacción 1, May, 2013. 

Very fine art: 6 stunningly beautiful nanoscale sculptures, Scientific American, May 19, 2013. 

Des fleurs minérales cultivées dans l’eau, La Recherche, July, 2013. 

In the Nanogarden, New Scientist (US), June, 2013. 

Blühende Kristalle, Der Spiegel, 22, 2013. 

Rose in Nano, Spektrum der Wissenschaft, May, 2013. 

Il giardino dei nanofiori di cristallo, Focus (IT), June, 2013. 

En maiblomst av mineraler, Forskning och Framsteg, May, 2013.