Oscillating pattern in nanoparticle crystallization

Max Planck researchers in Potsdam demonstrate an oscillating pattern in nanoparticle crystallization and self-organization

On basis of these results, scientists can better explain chemical reactions which are out of thermodynamic balance, as well as biological pattern formation in nature. Furthermore, these results could lead to the creation of surfaces with new kinds of structures (Angewandte Chemie, June 21, 2006).

Scientists are especially interested in oscillating chemical reactions. These occur when reaction products periodically and repeatedly change. Their behaviour is of importance to many fields of study - including chaos research. That is because these reaction systems are always complex and far away from thermodynamic equilibrium. One particularly well-known example is the "Belousov-Zhabotinsky" reaction. In it, a coloured indicator is used to make the reaction products of a coupled redox reaction visible. They typically take on the pattern of concentric circles, spreading out, for example, across a petri dish.

Mathematically, spatially oscillating reactions can be described as "reaction-diffusion systems". This means that it is not just chemical reactions which influence the amount of material at a certain point in space. Diffusion also plays a role - the exchange of material with the surrounding area. In such simulations, we get the typical concentric circle pattern of a Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction. In the picture above, it is indicated in red-violet.

Researchers from Potsdam have now proven that these oscillating reactions can also apply to multi-phase systems, and even to the self-organisation processes of nanoparticles. What is central is that in a multi-phase reaction system, it is possible to formulate either an autocatalyic or autoinhibiting reaction step. This leads an oscillating system to be constructed, and ultimately a pattern to be formed.

The researchers used a newly synthesized polymer to create the typical concentric circle pattern, via controlled barium carbonate crystallisation (see image). Such patterns correspond quite well to the calculations in a simulation. The researchers also were able to formulate a complex coupled reaction system including crystallisation, complexation, and precipitation reactions and identify the autocatalytic formation of a complex between barium and the polymer.

Notably, the elongated crystalline structures which made up the circular pattern are themselves created by superstructures of nanoparticles, which are themselves created by self-organisation (see image). In this way, Max Planck researchers have shown for the first time that the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction does not just take place in a solution, but also in multi-phase systems, and in nanoparticle self-organisation. This discovery is not only important to research into reactions far away from thermodynamic equilibrium. It can also help explain biological pattern formation. One example of biological self-organisation is mussel shell patterns. They are created via controlled crystallisation, just like the model systems of the researchers in Potsdam used. Interestingly, these patterns also mathematically duplicate reaction-diffusion systems exactly.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.