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In Situ Investigations into CaCO3 Nucleation


Classical theories of nucleation were developed over a hundred years ago starting with Gibbs. However, much remains unknown about the process of phase transition in aqueous electrolyte solutions due to the lack of experimental tools able to probe dynamic processes at the time and length scales of the phase transformation. In the calcium carbonate system, recent discovery of an amorphous phase, as well as the suggested existence of potential precursor states such as so-called 'pre-nucleation clusters' or dense liquid droplets, has called into question the utility of the classical framework in making accurate predictions of nucleation.

Added to these questions are those regarding the effects that chemical templates have on nucleating calcium carbonate. Many organisms use complex organic matrices to form architecturally complex functional structures out of sea water at ambient temperatures. By contrast, laboratory methods to materials synthesis often require extreme conditions yet maintain at best a low level of control over the development of the resulting material. With the goal of tightly controlling formation of functional materials, scientists have looked to such biomineral systems for inspiration. Self-assembled monolayers (SAMs) of functionalized alkanethiols have been found to act as idealized chemical templates for calcium carbonate nucleation, controlling the nucleating plane of the calcite phase for many surface functionalities. Yet there remain many open questions as to the fundamental mechanisms by which these templates achieve this control.

In this dissertation many investigations of calcium carbonate nucleation are discussed, which examine the nucleation pathways of calcium carbonate and mechanisms of control by which alkanethiol surfaces direct the oriented formation of calcite. Traditional in situ microscopy techniques are used to make nucleation rate measurements of templated calcite nucleation on alkanethiol SAMs to test the applicability of the predictions of classical nucleation theory to this system. Low resolution microscopy techniques are further used to provide indirect evidence for the formation pathways of calcite on SAMs exhibiting different surface chemistries. The development of a platform for liquid phase transmission electron microscopy (TEM) utilizing a sealed liquid cell is described, and its utility in making novel observations of materials formation processes is demonstrated. Liquid phase TEM is further employed, using an open cell system which allows for mixing reagents, to directly observe formation pathways in the CaCO3 system.

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