Local pH oscillations witness autocatalytic self-organization of biomorphic nanostructures

M. Montalti, G. Zhang, D. Genovese, J. Morales, M. Kellermeier & J.M. GarcĂ­a-Ruiz, Nat Commun. 2017 Feb 16;8:14427.

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Bottom-up self-assembly of simple molecular compounds is a prime pathway to complex materials with interesting structures and functions. Coupled reaction systems are known to spontaneously produce highly ordered patterns, so far observed in soft matter. Here we show that similar phenomena can occur during silica-carbonate crystallization, the emerging order being preserved. The resulting materials, called silica biomorphs, exhibit non-crystallographic curved morphologies and hierarchical textures, much reminiscent of structural principles found in natural biominerals. We have used a fluorescent chemosensor to probe local conditions during the growth of such self-organized nanostructures. We demonstrate that the pH oscillates in the local microenvironment near the growth front due to chemical coupling,
which becomes manifest in the final mineralized architectures as intrinsic banding patterns with the same periodicity. A better understanding of dynamic autocatalytic crystallization processes in such simple model systems is key to the rational development of advanced materials and to unravel the mechanisms of biomineralization.

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