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A crystal clear view of chalk formation
Date:1/23/2009

urchin forms its spines. As the tiny clusters with which crystallization starts are stable, organisms would have to intervene only at this early stage to influence the structure. They might use the pH level or biomolecules to do this.

The theory of crystallization that has prevailed so far leaves little room for influencing the arrangement of the ions in the regular crystal lattice early on. It assumes that the ions do not group together until a certain concentration has been exceeded. If these clusters do not reach a minimum size, they break apart. It is only when they can get beyond the size of the "critical crystal nucleus" that it becomes possible for the nucleus to grow into a crystal. The earliest point at which the crystal structure could be influenced would therefore be the critical nucleus.

The researchers in Golm used calcium phosphate and calcium oxalate to test whether other minerals also follow this crystallization pathway. Calcium phosphate is the main constituent of bones and teeth; kidney stones are predominately made up of calcium oxalate. The scientists subjected these materials to the same test as calcium carbonate. Drop by drop they added a solution containing calcium ions to a solution with the other component - that is, carbonate, phosphate or oxalate ions. With a special electrode they measured how many of the added calcium ions were present in the solution. It turned out that also in the experiments with calcium phosphate and calcium oxalate, there were fewer ions available than the researchers had added - they must therefore have been fixed into clusters, as was the case with the calcium carbonate.

Consequences for technology and climate change

The newly proposed mechanism of crystallization also has consequences for technology. "The stable clusters offer a new point at which to tackle lime scale deposits - not only in washing machines and dish washers, but also in industry," says Helmut Clfen. Thi
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Contact: Dr. Helmut Coelfen
helmut.coelfen@mpikg.mpg.de
49-331-567-9513
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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