The Origins of a Mineral

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In a study published recently in Science, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Washington used Hummingbird Scientific’s dual-flow liquid TEM sample holder to observe calcium carbonate crystal nucleation directly. Their research reveals the presence of multiple simultaneously-operating nucleation pathways and calls into question traditional assumptions about the nature of the nucleation process. “For a decade, we’ve been studying the formation pathways of carbonates using high-powered microscopes,” explains Dr. Jim DeYoreo, the project lead, in a PNNL press release. “But we hadn’t had the tools to watch the crystals form in real time. Now we know the pathways are far more complicated than envisioned in the models established in the twentieth century.”

Concurrent formation of multiple phases. All scale bars are 500nm. Image courtesy of M.H. Nielson et al. Copyright © 2014, American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Concurrent formation of multiple phases. All scale bars are 500nm. Image courtesy of M.H. Nielson et al.. Copyright © 2014, American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Because calcium carbonate is the largest global carbon sink, the results of this study have particular relevance to climatologists, who could use them to help explain the processes through which carbon dioxide is stored in rocks, minerals, shells, and reefs instead of being released into the atmosphere. In future work, Dr. DeYoreo and his fellow researchers hope to observe living organisms’ roles in calcium carbonate nucleation.

 

Learn more about the Dual-Flow Mixing Sample Holder used in the experiment

  PNNL Press Release | LBL Press Release

M.H. Nielsen, S. Aloni, J.J. De Yoreo. “In-situ TEM imaging of CaCOnucleation reveals coexistence of direct and indirect pathways,” Science 345:6201 (2014) pp. 1158–1162 Abstract

Copyright © 2014, American Association for the Advancement of Science

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Nature Materials: Liquid Cell TEM Reveals Calcium Carbonate Nucleation Secrets

 

 


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