Project Prometheus (ERC Advanced Grant)

The precipitation of alkaline-earth carbonates in silica-rich alkaline solutions yield nanocrystalline aggregates that develop non-crystallographic morphologies. These purely inorganic hierarchical materials form under geochemically plausible conditions and closely resemble typical biologically induced mineral textures and shapes, thus the name ‘biomorphs’. The potential interest of these fascinating structures in Earth Sciences has never been explored mostly because of their complexity and multidisciplinary nature.

PROMETHEUS aims to carry out an in-depth investigation of the nature of mineral structures such as silica biomorphs and chemical gardens and the role of mineral self-organization in extreme alkaline geological environments. The results will impact our current understanding of the early geological and biological history of Earth by pushing forward the unexplored field of inorganic biomimetic pattern formation. The ambitious research programme will include the development of high-end methods and instruments for the non-intrusive in situ characterization of geochemically important variables, including pH mapping with microscopic resolution, time resolved imaging of concentration gradients, microscopic fluid dynamics and characterization of ultraslow growth rates.

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