Wim L. Noorduin, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) discovered a way to control the growth behavior of barium carbonate crystals to create precisely tailored structures. To prove he could manipulate the growth of these crystals, Noorduin and his colleagues created beautifully complex microscopic flower sculptures smaller than the width of a human hair and published this amazing work in the scientific top journal Science.
Dr. Noorduin performed his work in the lab of Joanna Aizenberg that tries to unravel the fundamental physical and chemical principles behind self-assembling structures found in nature, more specifically the intricate mineral skeletons that are produced by all sorts of organisms in a process called biomineralization.
To create the flower-like structures, Noorduin and his colleagues dissolve barium chloride (a salt) and sodium silicate (also known as waterglass) into a beaker of water. The crystallization reaction happens spontaneously and by manipulating the conditions of the reaction Noorduin could sculpt the intricate forms while the crystals were growing. He found that, for example, increasing the concentration of carbon dioxide helps to create ‘broad-leafed’ structures. Reversing the pH gradient at the right moment can create curved, ruffled structures. At this point, Wim Noorduin turned into a passionate chemical sculptor, creating his own chemical micrometer-sized botanical garden!
Take a look below at some of Noorduin’s astonishing creations in these digitally colored electron microscope pictures!