Controlling nucleation and growth is crucial in biological and artificial mineralization and self-assembly processes. The nucleation barrier is determined by the chemistry of the interfaces at which crystallization occurs and local supersaturation. Although chemically tailored substrates and lattice mismatches are routinely used to modify energy landscape at the substrate/nucleus interface and thereby steer heterogeneous nucleation, strategies to combine this with control over local supersaturations have remained virtually unexplored. Here we demonstrate simultaneous control over both parameters to direct the positioning and growth direction of mineralizing compounds on preselected polymorphic substrates. We exploit the polymorphic nature of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) to locally manipulate the carbonate concentration and lattice mismatch between the nucleus and substrate, such that barium carbonate (BaCO3) and strontium carbonate (SrCO3) nucleate only on specific CaCO3 polymorphs. Based on this approach we position different materials and shapes on predetermined CaCO3 polymorphs in sequential steps, and guide the growth direction using locally created supersaturations. These results shed light on nature’s remarkable mineralization capabilities and outline fabrication strategies for advanced materials, such as ceramics, photonic structures, and semiconductors.
Controlled self-assembly of three-dimensional shapes holds great potential for fabrication of functional materials. Their practical realization requires a theoretical framework to quantify and guide the dynamic sculpting of the curved structures that often arise in accretive mineralization. Motivated by a variety of bioinspired coprecipitation patterns of carbonate and silica, we develop a geometrical theory for the kinetics of the growth front that leaves behind thin-walled complex structures. Our theory explains the range of previously observed experimental patterns and, in addition, predicts unexplored assembly pathways. This allows us to design a number of functional base shapes of optical microstructures, which we synthesize to demonstrate their light-guiding capabilities. Overall, our framework provides a way to understand and control the growth and form of functional precipitating microsculptures.
Many species rely on diverse selections of entirely organic photonic structures for the manipulation of light and the display of striking colours. Here we report the discovery of a mineralized hierarchical photonic architecture embedded within the translucent shell of the blue-rayed limpet Patella pellucida. The bright colour of the limpet’s stripes originates from light interference in a periodically layered zig-zag architecture of crystallographically co-oriented calcite lamellae. Beneath the photonic multilayer, a disordered array of light-absorbing particles provides contrast for the blue colour. This unique mineralized manifestation of a synergy of two distinct optical elements at specific locations within the continuum of the limpet’s translucent protective shell ensures the vivid shine of the blue stripes, which can be perceived under water from a wide range of viewing angles. The stripes’ reflection band coincides with the spectral range of minimal light absorption in sea water, raising intriguing questions regarding their functional significance.
Nature provides a multitude of examples of multifunctional structural materials in which trade-offs are imposed by conflicting functional requirements. One such example is the biomineralized armor of the chiton Acanthopleura granulata, which incorporates an integrated sensory system that includes hundreds of eyes with aragonite-based lenses. We use optical experiments to demonstrate that these microscopic lenses are able to form images. Light scattering by the polycrystalline lenses is minimized by the use of relatively large, crystallographically aligned grains. Multiscale mechanical testing reveals that as the size, complexity, and functionality of the integrated sensory elements increase, the local mechanical performance of the armor decreases. However, A. granulata has evolved several strategies to compensate for its mechanical vulnerabilities to form a multipurpose system with co-optimized optical and structural functions.