The aim of this project is to use microfluidic systems to study biological crystallization reactions
Biominerals – which include materials such as bones, teeth and seashells – are characterised by unique morphologies, hierarchical ordering and properties which are unparalleled by their synthetic counterparts. These structures therefore provide a unique inspiration for materials design and synthesis, and researchers are attempting to identify the strategies employed by nature and then adapt them for use in synthetic systems.1,2
This project will use microfluidic devices to investigate how organisms control crystallization processes. This will then enable us to apply these strategies to the formation of crystalline materials with new and enhanced properties and to create “synthetic biominerals”. A characteristic feature of biological systems is that they are dynamic, and processes typically occur under non-equilibrium conditions. Microfluidic systems provide a unique and straightforward way of studying dynamic processes – and their ability to offer control over confinement, flow and spatial organisation – makes them excellent mimics of biological systems.3,4 These features are also central to an organism’s ability to create the anisotropic morphologies and internal structures so characteristic of biominerals. We will explore the use of a wide range of devices, investigating for example crystallization within droplets and a “crystal hotel”. Microfluidic devices will be used to achieve temporal control over the addition of additives, and to grow crystals within anisotropic environments comprising spatial patterns of defined chemical gradients.
This project will give experience in microfluidic systems, crystal growth techniques and a wide range of analytical methods including scanning and transmission electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction, Raman microscopy, atomic force microscopy and IR spectroscopy.
1, Ihli J., Wong W-C, Noel E. H., Kim Y-Y, Kulak A. N., Christenson H. K., Duer M. J., Meldrum F. C. “Dehydration and Crystallization of Amorphous Calcium Carbonate in Solution and in Air”, Nature Commun. (2014) 5, 3169.
2, Kim Y-Y, Ganesan K., Yang P., Kulak A.N., Borukhin S., Pechook S., Ribeiro L., Kröger R., Eichhorn S.J., Armes S.P., Pokroy B., Meldrum F.C “Artificial Biominerals – Incorporation of Copolymer Micelles in Calcite Single Crystals” Nat. Mater. (2011), 10, 890.
3, Cantaert B., Beniash E., Meldrum F.C. “Nanoscale Confinement Controls the Crystallization of Calcium Phosphate: Relevance to Bone Formation” Chem Eur J. (2013), 19, 14918.
4, Stephens C. J., Kim Y-Y., Evans S. D., Meldrum, F. C., Christenson H. K. “Early Stages of Crystallization of Calcium Carbonate Revealed in Picoliter Droplets” J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2011, 133, 5210.