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.
The emergence of complex nano- and microstructures is of fundamental interest, and the ability to program their form has practical ramifications in fields such as optics, catalysis, and electronics. We developed carbonate-silica microstructures in a dynamic reaction-diffusion system that allow us to rationally devise schemes for precisely sculpting a great variety of elementary shapes by diffusion of carbon dioxide (CO2) in a solution of barium chloride and sodium metasilicate. We identify two distinct growth modes and show how continuous and discrete modulations in CO2 concentration, pH, and temperature can be used to deterministically switch between different regimes and create a bouquet of hierarchically assembled multiscale microstructures with unprecedented levels of complexity and precision. These results outline a nanotechnology strategy for "collaborating" with self-assembly processes in real time to build arbitrary tectonic architectures.